Parker Institute-allied Tessa grabs an $80M round for its next-gen cancer cell therapies
Last summer the Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy raised eyebrows in R&D circles with its announcement that it was allying itself with a little-known biotech based on Singapore that was taking a novel approach to adoptive cell therapies. Now, the biotech — Tessa Therapeutics — has raised $80 million from a well-heeled group that includes the sovereign wealth fund for Singapore to finish a Phase III quest aimed at one of the Holy Grails of cancer R&D.
The big idea at Tessa is that it knows how to adapt virus-specific T cells to target virally-associated tumors like cervical and head and neck cancer, swarming the cells. And done properly, it could prove an open door to go beyond some of the astonishing successes that CAR-T drugs have had in blood cancers into solid tumors.
“As much as its technological aspect, it’s also a philosophical alignment,” Fred Ramsdell, the vice president for research at the Parker Institute, told me at the time. “They have a very good scientific underpinning. They know what they’re doing; very well rounded….You never know, but it looks really quite good.”
The work at Tessa is led by chief scientific officer John Connolly, a Baylor vet, and CMO Han Chong Toh, the deputy director of the National Cancer Centre Singapore and one of the top cancer investigators in the region. That all clearly helped encourage one of the biggest venture rounds seen in the region this year.
Tessa turned up at ASCO in early June with Phase II data on 35 patients with rare cases of Stage 4c nasopharyngeal carcinoma, or NPC, associated with Epstein-Barr virus. It was, said Connolly, “beautiful survival data.” Their conclusion:
The 2- and 3-year overall survival rates were 62.9% and 37.1% respectively, which represent the best reported survival outcome for first-line treatment of advanced NPC when compared to historical clinical trials.
Tessa has also been lining up new tech on oncolytic viruses and chimeric antigen receptors for its next-gen work. And now it has more money for the next stage of the journey from a significant group of Asian investors.
Singapore-based Temasek, a sovereign wealth fund for the city-state, led the round and was joined by EDBI, Karst Peak Capital, Heliconia, Heritas and other investors.