Another iPSC player joins the quest for standard cell therapies – Endpoints News
Scientists have searched for the “holy grail” of cell therapy – a standard product – for years. Notch Therapeutics is now joining the quest with a technology platform that it says can industrialize cell production. And on Wednesday, he unveiled an $ 85 million Series A to get started.
Notch was founded in 2018 by Juan Carlos Zúñiga-Pflücker and Peter Zandstra, but “really took off” in late 2019 when it signed an agreement with Allogene to research candidates for allogeneic cell therapy, CEO David Main said. The nascent biotechnology got $ 10 million upfront and is expected to earn up to an additional $ 294.2 million in milestones.
Main, who joined the group in 2020, plans to use Notch’s Series A funds to develop two things: people and pipeline. Over the next two years, Main expects the 35-person company to expand to around 100 employees and file its first IND.
What sets Notch apart from others working on allogeneic cell therapies is what she calls her “Engineered Thymic Niche” platform, Main said. Rather than drawing blood and extracting immune cells that you want to donate to a patient, Notch creates immune cells from pluripotent stem cells. Pluripotent basically means that the cell can be differentiated into any cell you want, Main said.
To do this, they created an artificial thymus, which is a small organ near the breastbone where T cells mature. A cell passing through the thymus is exposed to a number of signals that turn it into an immune cell, Main explained.
The idea of using induced pluripotent stem cells, or iPSCs, to grow cells in the lab instead of extracting them from donors is not new. Johnson & Johnson signed a up to $ 3.1 billion deal with Fate Therapeutics in April to work on iPSC-derived CAR-T and CAR-NK candidates. And Century Therapeutics from Versant Ventures landed a $ 250 million round in 2019 to advance iPSC cancer products.
“People have known in science for many, many decades how to differentiate stem cells and T cells, but they couldn’t do it outside of the test tube in a research library. Or if they tried to market it that way, they would have to have thousands of petri dishes to make enough cells for therapy, ”Main said.
With the so-called Engineered Thymic Niche platform, Notch says it can differentiate stem cells in a “highly controlled fashion”, using large-scale batch reactors like those used to grow antibodies or other proteins. .
“We can make, you know, billions of cells at a time,” Main said. “So really industrialize cell production,” he later added.
Notch – named for the signal that must be triggered to differentiate a stem cell into a T cell – is on the verge of reaching the first preclinical milestone of the Allogene agreement, according to Main, although he declined to provide further details. on this program.
It is also working to establish itself in Seattle, in addition to its current bases in Toronto and Vancouver. The goal? Building a development team around new Senior Vice President of Preclinical Translational Sciences Chris Bond, who Notch poached kite.
Allogene has participated in Series A, in addition to Lumira Ventures and CCRM Enterprises Holdings, EcoR1 Capital, Casdin Capital, Samsara Capital, Amplitude Ventures and an undisclosed investment firm. Another undisclosed fund led the round.
The main allogeneic cell therapies are called the “holy grail” of the field. By the time a patient and their doctor decide that cell therapy is the best approach, it often takes weeks or even months to get the cells, purify them, grow them, stimulate them, and bring them back to the patients, a Main said. . During this time, a patient’s disease may progress. Not to mention that it is expensive and labor intensive.
“What we think it is is that we can make the cells, cryopreserve them in a central dispensary somewhere, and as soon as they are ordered, they can be delivered and administered within hours to the patient,” a Main said.
He later added, “We think we’re bringing this last piece … to really unleash the potential of cell therapy to be widely applicable and more like a drug.”