Sensei Biotherapeutics rakes in $28.5M to give cancer immunotherapies a push
Less than a month after offering a glimpse at early clinical data for its lead cancer immunotherapy at virtual ESMO, Sensei Biotherapeutics has reeled in $28.5 million to wade deeper into Phase II.
The Maryland-based biotech, formerly known as Panacea, is looking to expand Phase II trials for SNS-301, an engineered inactivated bacteriophage designed to “awaken” the immune system. “Right now we’re really focused on adding additional Phase II clinical and translational data to support SNS-301,” CEO John Celebi said.
The round, which the company is calling a Series AA, follows several seed rounds, Celebi said. It was led by Cambrian Biopharma and H&S Ventures, and will fund the Phase II development of SNS-301. It will also help ready the biotech’s earlier candidates for IND applications, which could come sometime in the next 12 to 18 months. That includes SNS-401, a potential vaccine cocktail against Merkel cell carcinoma, and SNS-VISTA, an antibody-based therapeutic.
Last summer, Sensei joined forces with AstraZeneca to test SNS-301 in combination with Imfinzi in two Phase II trials across multiple solid tumors. And at ESMO, the biotech read out early data from a Phase I/II study of the candidate and Merck’s Keytruda for advanced head and neck cancer. One of 9 patients evaluated at the time had a partial response, with a tumor reduction of 43%, according to the company.
“The approval of pembrolizumab is an exciting event for patients, but clearly there’s a lot of room for improvement,” Celebi said, citing a Keynote-012 study which showed Merck’s drug achieved an 18% overall response in patients with metastatic squamous cell carcinoma of the head and neck.
CMO Marie-Louise Fjaellskog noted in a statement:
To date, we have observed promising clinical activity that is correlated with immune response for SNS-301, including a partial response in a patient with PD-L1-negative disease. This initial data from 9 patients provides us with the rationale to continue exploring its safety and efficacy in 1st and 2nd line SCCHN patients.
Future Ventures, Christian Angermayer’s Apeiron Investment Group, and Presight Ventures also chipped in to the round.
“With experienced management and scientific teams, Sensei is well positioned to become a leader in next generation of immune-oncology therapeutics,” Cambrian Biopharma CEO James Peyer said in a statement.