Harvard spinout kicks off 2021 with a crossover round and sights set on the clinic
Several months after striking an alliance with Novartis, TCR therapy-focused TScan Therapeutics has reeled in a crossover round that should hold it over for the next two years as it eyes a public debut.
The Christoph Westphal portfolio company had been arranging the crossover for the last few months, CEO David Southwell said. Just before Christmas, they nailed down what he called a “really blue-chip” syndicate of four new investors, including BlackRock, RA Capital Management and two undisclosed funds. They closed on the $100 million Series C just over a week ago, and waited until Monday morning to announce it.
“I think it’s likely that we’re going to go public at some point,” Southwell told Endpoints News. But for now, the Series C cash gives them flexibility through 2022.
The Harvard University spinout is building a repository of clinically-active TCRs using its high-throughput whole genome discovery platform. The company had compared it to a vending machine or a library of sorts, before finally settling on the term “bank,” Southwell said.
The process begins with T cells from patients’ tumors. Researchers use the discovery platform to find out exactly what targets the T cell is hitting, then clinically validate the TCR to see if it has any off-target effects. When the TCR is validated, it gets added to the bank. Knowing a patient’s HLA type and tumor target, researchers can then take TCRs out of the bank, “grow them up, and put them into the patient,” Southwell said.
“Those T cell receptors are often there in the patient, but the problem is that they’re not there in sufficient abundance to really attack the tumor,” he added.
The approach comes from the lab of Harvard professor Stephen Elledge, who set out years ago to screen antigen-TCR matches in a faster, more systematic way. He spent 7 years putting together the tech for a platform that could run multiple TCRs against antigen epitopes and pinpoint the exact pairs that appear to interact. Now, what began as 96 plates in Elledge’s lab has transformed into a company that has raised $180 million to date and attracted the likes of Novartis.
Back in April, the Novartis Institutes for BioMedical Research put down $30 million to kick off a new TCR immuno-oncology program with TScan. The partners are working on discovering targets in a “select solid tumor indication,” TScan revealed. NIBR pitched into TScan’s Series B round, alongside the pharma’s venture fund.
“There’s a lot with this discovery platform that we can do, that we’re not going to develop on our own,” Southwell said, including Covid-19 work.
Coming up in 2021, TScan plans on filing INDs for two liquid tumor TCR T cell therapies — TSC-100 and TSC-101. It has another three solid tumor candidates expected to hit the clinic in 2022.
While the company currently has 60 staffers, Southwell predicts they’ll have well over 100 in the next six to nine months as they build out their manufacturing and cell processing units.
The feeling at TScan? “We’re really excited,” Southwell said.