SoftBank, Cormorant lead hefty $210M injection for Umoja's three-in-one cancer immunotherapy play
Umoja Biopharma has scored some bold backers for its grand vision to reshape cancer immunotherapies.
The Seattle-based biotech is tying the bow around a $210 million Series B that features prominent crossover players: SoftBank Vision Fund 2, Cormorant Asset Management, RTW Investments, Temasek, Presight Capital, Caas Capital, and an investment fund associated with SVB Leerink. Execs declined an interview, a move that fits into an increasingly common playbook pointing to an IPO next.
Coming half a year after the launch round, the financing builds on preclinical progress, manufacturing expansion and new hires Umoja has made in the past months, CEO Andy Scharenberg said in a statement.
At the core of Umoja’s pitch is the idea that you can take the lessons learned from CAR-T and other approaches aimed at amping up the immune system against cancer, and create a suite of technologies that work with each other to corner those tumor cells.
Among the three platforms it’s developing, two have generated initial products that it believes are almost ready for the clinic: The first is TumorTag UB-TT170, a binder that flags cancer cells for destruction. It will be tested for folate receptor-expressing solid tumors in combination with an accompanying CAR-T therapy, as co-founder Michael Jensen prepares to lead a trial for pediatric osteosarcoma at Seattle Children’s.
Then there’s VivoVec UB VV100, a lentiviral vector delivered in vivo to generate a population of CD19-targeting, cancer killing CAR-T cells within a patient’s body.
The third pillar involves small molecule modulators that can fine-tune and control how those CAR-T cells function in the body. A product from this line will be deployed with a second in vivo CAR-T at a later time.
Scharenberg has recruited a full slate of execs to push forth all three technologies together, with the recent appointments of Janssen vet Nushmia Khokhar as CMO, Sanofi alum Irena Melnikova as CFO, and David Fontana (formerly of Bristol Myers Squibb) as chief business and strategy officer.
Ryan Crisman, co-founder and CTO, will oversee a new drive to beef up manufacturing operations with a new site in Boulder.
“Umoja’s fully integrated approach is capable of engineering a patient’s own immune system to attack and destroy tumors with a simplicity and cost that enables widespread implementation,” he said in a statement.