New cell therapy player launches with $57M from marquee investors to go after 'definitive' tumor targets
A crew of Amgen and Kite vets is publicly throwing their new startup into the cell therapy hat — though they are saying little outside of the basics and $57 million in Series A cash.
The Column Group, Vida Ventures, Samsara BioCapital and Nextech Invest are backing A2 Biotherapeutics’ quest to find new ways of engaging immune cells in selectively attacking cancer. To do so, the biotech is working with two target classes: peptide MHC targets and targets that are “irreversibly lost in tumor cells.” The former builds on an increasingly popular strategy of locating neoantigens for T cells to home in on, while the latter is inspired by a mechanism used by natural killer cells.
“A2 Biotherapeutics has potent, highly selective binders that we combine into molecular constructs to integrate multiple signals and potentially provide a large therapeutic window,” said CSO Alexander Kamb, who co-founded the biotech after a stint as SVP of research at Amgen. They could be antibody and T-cell receptor fragments, according to its statement.
Scott Foraker, his former colleague at the Big Biotech, recently signed on as president and CEO.
Working out of Agoura Hills, California, their team of 40 expects to usher the first product candidate into the clinic next year. Its four programs in development span cancer testis antigen for solid tumors; “targets lost” antigens for solid tumors; neoantigens for head and neck cancer; and neoantigens for pancreatic, colorectal and lung cancer.
It also plans on constructing a manufacturing facility — arguably the most important core competency that differentiates one cell therapy player from another — in 2020 with the mindset of ultimately producing its own commercial supply. The site would support an autologous approach, though A2 Bio didn’t specify what kind of cells it would use as the source.
Their lead in technical ops is Michelle Kreke, who was credited for leading chemistry, manufacturing and controls for the pioneering CAR-T Yescarta.