Looking to solve the solid tumor puzzle box, Carisma aims to take 'CAR-M' groundbreaker into early-stage trial
In an effort to crack the code of hard-to-treat solid tumors, biopharma has tried numerous pathways to effectively target those masses without damaging healthy tissues. Philly’s Carisma Therapeutics thinks it has a winner with its macrophage cell-based “CAR-M” candidates, and now it’s taking a new flush of investor cash to try one in the clinic.
Carisma has scored a $47 million Series B round to take its lead candidate, anti-HER2 CAR-M tumor fighter CT-0508, into a Phase I trial as well as advancing the rest of its preclinical macrophage pipeline. Carisma has keyed in on the use of targeted macrophage cells and vectors to penetrate the environment of solid cancer tumors without hurting health tissues — a puzzle in the solid tumor field.
CT-0508’s early-stage study will turn out the first human data for a CAR-M therapy based on those macrophage cells, Carisma said. CEO Steven Kelly told Endpoints News his company could offer an effective and safer way to target tumors and “warm them up” for the immune system to attack.
“There are a number of characteristics about macrophages that would lend themselves towards applications of solid tumors and other indications, but what we’re focused on is solid tumors,” Kelly said. “Macrophages are preferentially recruited into a tumor microenvironment, and lymphocytes like the CAR-T approaches are actively excluded. So we think that we have an advantage by overcoming trafficking limitations to solid tumors.”
This has been the sticking point for the industry: therapeutics that can invade the walls which surround cancerous tumors without damaging otherwise healthy cells.
Kelly is confident that Carisma’s technology will ultimately decipher how to do just that.
“Once it starts eating (the cancerous tumor cells), the macrophages will start producing cytokines that effectively warm up that environment and convert an immunologically cold tumor into a warm or hot tumor and recruit in other cells, like T cells for example. So that last element is really unique to macrophages due to the antigen presentation capability,” he said. “They engage in cells directly, they warm up the tumor microenvironment, and they generate a true adaptive immune response. That’s how we think of ourselves and how we’re differentiated in the cell therapy space.”
Kelly said it was a bit premature to know when Carisma would begin public readouts of the data surrounding its macrophage therapeutics, but he hoped they would be able to do so by the middle of this year.
The total capital Carisma has raised since its Series A financing in 2018 now totals roughly $109 million, and is a key step in moving the company from “effectively a discovery-stage company to a clinical-stage company,” Kelly said.
“A lot of effort has gone into building this company. We had to transition from a bench project at (the University of) Penn, we had to demonstrate all the things necessary to get an IND declared — (so) safety and efficacy — we had to develop a GMP manufacturing process,” Kelly said. “All those were effectively developed to FDA satisfaction, and we’re moving into the clinic now.”
Investors in the Series B financing are led by Symbiosis II, with subsequent investment from Solasta Ventures and Livzon Pharmaceutical Group. Additionally, Carisma said, existing investors AbbVie Ventures, HealthCap, Wellington Partners, IP Group, TPG Biotech, Agent Capital, and MRL Ventures Fund contributed to the new round of funding.