Cell therapy startup bit.bio adds $100M+ to its coffers and some impressive names to its board of directors
Bit.bio CEO Mark Kotter says the last major revolution in biopharma occurred around the 1980s, when antibodies — or, as some called them, anticancer “magic bullets” — opened up the door for new therapies.
Now cell therapy is having a very similar moment, he told Endpoints News, and some blue-chip investors are giving his cell coding company $103 million to get behind it.
Kotter unveiled the high-dollar Series B round on Friday, with participation from Arch Ventures, Charles River Laboratories, Foresite Capital, National Resilience, Metaplanet, Puhua Capital and Tencent. The new cash builds on a $41.5 million Series A round that attracted some interesting investors last June, including National Cancer Institute ex-chief Rick Klausner, Arch’s Bob Nelsen and Foresite Capital CEO Jim Tananbaum.
The latest round brings a few more notable names onto bit.bio’s board of directors, including monoclonal antibody pioneer and Nobel laureate Greg Winter, Amadeus Capital Partners co-founder Hermann Hauser, and Alan Roemer, the entrepreneur behind both Pharmasset and Roivant.
Bit.bio’s roots trace back to the University of Cambridge’s Stem Cell Institute, where Kotter worked on a platform approach to coding for cells at an industrial scale, making it possible to relatively quickly generate batches of specific cells that come out with enhanced features.
First-generation cell therapies are made with a mix of cells that are often “not in very good shape,” Kotter said, adding that scientists will start with cells taken from patients who are already battling cancer.
“There’s a lot of variability with the cells, and you have very little control,” he added.
Bit.bio is one of the many companies pursuing an off-the-shelf approach, starting with engineered pluripotent stem cells. It’s a group that includes other new entrants like Garuda Therapeutics which launched last year, and Clade Therapeutics, which emerged from stealth earlier this week.
What will set the Cambridge, England company apart from the pack? Scalability, Kotter says.
“Other companies in that space have made incredible progress,” he said. “We now have a few stem cell products being tested in the market, but they’re still having issues with scale and with reproducibility.”
Kotter says bit.bio’s biology is more permissive, adding that the company is already at industrial scale in terms of cell production. He compared the company’s “opti-ox” platform to a hack into the software of the cell. By activating specific transcription factors, scientists can essentially change the program or identity of the cell. Now all the team needs is to get into the clinic — though Kotter didn’t provide a timeline for that.
“I’m not going to say this is going to be easy,” he said. “It’s going to be super hard, but our advantage is that we’re not fighting a biology that is resisting, you know, scale up and consistency.”