Science & Enterprise subscription

Follow us on Twitter

  • A biotechnology company is developing treatments for cancer and other diseases using Crispr gene editing delivered…
    about 20 hours ago
  • New post on Science and Enterprise: Biotech Creating More Efficient Crispr Therapies #Science #Business
    about 20 hours ago
  • I have a Mode joke. It was a Moderna joke, but a messenger lost the RNA.
    about 2 days ago
  • Behind the scenes, CEPI and BARDA were funding vaccine development and covering manufacturing costs. They helped ge…
    about 3 days ago
  • A YouGov survey taken earlier this month indicates the U.S. public largely supports rejoining the Paris climate agr…
    about 3 days ago

Please share Science & Enterprise

Biotech Creating More Efficient Crispr Therapies

DNA puzzle

(Arek Socha, Pixabay)

30 Nov. 2020. A biotechnology company is developing treatments for cancer and other diseases using Crispr gene editing delivered with more efficient synthetic proteins. Spotlight Therapeutics Inc., a three-year-old enterprise in Hayward, California, is emerging from stealth operations and raising $30 million in its first venture funding round.

Spotlight Therapeutics says it’s creating Crispr gene editing therapies that work more precisely and efficiently than current methods. Crispr, short for clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats, is a genome-editing process based on bacterial defense mechanisms that use RNA to identify, monitor, and edit targeted locations in DNA. The company says therapies based on Crispr, such as for inherited diseases, are delivered today with benign viruses or in lipid nanoscale particles that limit their full potential.

Spotlight’s platform designs programmable synthetic proteins that deliver and carry out Crispr gene editing inside targeted cells. The company’s technology is based on research by its scientific founders, geneticists Alex Marson at University of California in San Francisco, Jacob Corn at ETH Zurich in Switzerland, and Patrick Hsu at University of California in Berkeley. The founders’ labs study biologic processes that call for enhancing and refining earlier forms of gene editing with Crispr. Marson, Corn, and Hsu are company directors and scientific advisors.

Spotlight calls its platform targeted active gene editors that assemble different molecular components to deliver and perform Crispr gene editing. The company says it maintains a library of these components, including peptides that permeate cell membranes, ligands or binding molecules, and antibodies. Spotlight then puts together these components in a package with gene-editing enzymes that maximizes targeting and delivery of Crispr functions.

“Spotlight’s unique approach represents the potential to expand applications and democratize gene editing for patients,” says Marson in company statement.

The company’s first treatments address cancer and hemoglobin disorders, such as sickle cell disease. For treating cancer, Spotlight Therapeutics is building a targeted active gene editor that edits T-cells and macrophage cells in the immune system for altering the cancer tumor microenvironment. That microenvironment of blood vessels and extracellular material, supports cancer cell growth and protects the tumor against immune system responses. Spotlight says its cancer therapies aim to weaken the microenvironment, making it less resistant to immune responses. The company is beginning with treatments injected directly into tumors, but says it plans to ultimately develop a systemic therapy.

For hemoglobin diseases, Spotlight is developing a targeted active gene editor that edits blood-forming stem cells in bone marrow. Hemoglobin is a protein in blood that delivers oxygen to cells in the body. Current Crispr treatments in clinical trials for sickle cell disease first require editing a patient’s blood-forming stem cells outside the body, then reinfusing them back into the patient. Spotlight plans to develop a Crispr therapy that edits blood-forming stem cells while in bone marrow, making the process much simpler and safer.

The company is raising $30 million in its first venture round, led by GV, formerly Google Ventures, and joined by other undisclosed investors. According to Crunchbase, Spotlight Therapeutics already raised $14.2 million beginning in January 2018, thus some or all of that amount may be included in the $30 million figure.

More from Science & Enterprise:

Hat tip: Endpoints News

*     *     *

Infographic – Public Favors Rejoining Paris Accord

Chart: rejoin Paris accord?

Click on image for full-size view. (YouGov)

28 Nov. 2020. A top priority for U.S. president-elect Joe Biden’s administration is mitigating effects of climate change, with the first step in that plan to rejoin the international agreement to limit greenhouse gas emissions and reverse climate change impacts. The U.N. sponsored the treaty, agreed to in Paris in April 2015 by the U.S. and most other countries. The Obama administration signed and supported the agreement, but Donald Trump later withdrew the U.S. from the accord.

A YouGov survey taken earlier this month indicates the U.S. public largely supports rejoining the Paris climate agreement. By more than a two-to-one margin, a majority of adults in the U.S. (55%) are strongly or somewhat in favor of rejoining the Paris accord, while 23 percent are strongly or somewhat opposed. About one in five (22%) don’t know.

To no one’s surprise, political affiliation creates wide differences in opinion on the question. Eight in 10 Democrats (79%) support rejoining the Paris agreement, while most Republicans (57%) are opposed. About half (52%) of independents and other affiliations also support taking part again in the agreement, while one-quarter to one-third of each group disagree. Geographic region also plays a role: six in 10 people living in the eastern U.S. (60%) favor rejoining the Paris accord, compared to about half of those living in the South (51%).

YouGov recruits a representative panel of about 2 million residents in the U.S. to take part in online surveys. The 11 Nov. survey had 7,607 adult respondents.

More from Science & Enterprise:

*     *     *

Trial Requested for Covid-19 Vaccine Nasal Spray

Nasal spray


27 Nov. 2020. Makers of a Covid-19 vaccine given as a nasal spray asked the Food and Drug Administration to authorize a a human clinical trial of the vaccine. In the request to FDA, Altimmune Inc. in Gaithersburg, Maryland cites a preclinical study of its AdCovid vaccine with lab mice conducted by researchers at University of Alabama in Birmingham.

Altimmune is a developer of drugs that invoke the immune system, including vaccines against infectious diseases. Among the company’s pipeline products is NasoVax, an influenza vaccine formulated as a nasal spray that Altimmune says in clinical trials generates protective antibodies as well as injected flu vaccines. In addition, says the company, NasoVax protects against infections in mucous membranes and generates T-cell responses in the immune system, with those immune responses lasting 12 to 14 months in about half of the participants.

AdCovid, says the company, is designed using a similar technology as NasoVax to produce multiple immune responses. The vaccine’s chemistry resembles receptor proteins in cells, where the SARS-CoV-2 virus’s spike protein binds, to begin the infection process. When binding to the spike protein, AdCovid aims to generate immunoglobulin G and A, or IgG and IgA, neutralizing antibodies in the blood and mucous membranes respectively, to prevent immediate Covid-19 infections, but also prevent infections from developing in the respiratory tract.

A team at Alabama-Birmingham, led by microbiologist Frances Lund, tested AdCovid in lab mice for its ability to produce an immune response. As reported by Science & Enterprise in July, and later submitted for publication, results show AdCovid produces detectable levels of IgG antibodies in mice 14 days after a single dose. After 28 days, say the researchers, AdCovid generates a concentration of antibodies at twice the level than recommended by FDA for convalescent plasma, donated by individuals who recover from Covid-19 infections.

In addition, a single dose of AdCovid produces IgA antibodies in mouse respiratory fluids in mucous membranes at levels 29 times higher than before vaccination, and well above IgA antibody levels produced in other vaccines designed to act in mucosal tissue. Lund notes in a university statement that “nasal mucosal immunity may be essential in preventing the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus to other individuals by stopping replication and transmission of the virus at the site of infection, the nose and respiratory tract.”

“AdCovid has the potential to provide many benefits not offered by current vaccines,” says Altimmune’s CEO Vipin Garg in a company statement, “including simple intranasal administration, particularly well-suited for use in children, the ability to be transported at room temperature and conveniently stored in refrigerators for years, and the stimulation of nasal mucosal immunity with the potential to provide sterilizing immunity and block transmission of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.”

The request to FDA is an investigational new drug application, in effect, a request to begin clinical trials. Altimmune reports that in an initial meeting with FDA, the agency agreed to the company’s design for a phase 1 or early-stage clinical trial of AdCovid, including the planned population for recruiting participants, as well as vaccine manufacturing plans. The company also says FDA noted earlier toxicology studies of Altimmune’s other nasal spray vaccines removed the need for separate toxicity tests for AdCovid.

More from Science & Enterprise:

*     *     *

Wheat Genome Study IDs Critical Genes, Traits

Curtis Pozniak in wheat field

Curtis Pozniak (Christina Weese, Univ. of Saskatchewan)

26 Nov. 2020. An international research team identified key features of the complex wheat genome, including genes affecting the grain’s yield, quality, and survival. The study that represents the efforts of 98 researchers in North America, Europe, Asia, and the Middle East appears in yesterday’s issue of the journal Nature.

The study was done by the 10+ Genome Project, a worldwide effort to identify underlying core genomic features of wheat, and unique genetic variations, to develop better varieties of this critical grain for feeding an expanding world population, during a demanding global climate crisis. Wheat, say the researchers, is the most widely cultivated cereal grain in the world, with production that needs to grow by more than half by 2050 to meet expected demand.

The 10+ Genome Project seeks to describe wheat’s pan-genome, a complete inventory of the grain’s genes and genetic variations. Within the pan-genome, the project aims to highlight core genetic features common to all wheat types, while also identifying characteristics of unique varieties, particularly those associated with desirable traits. But the complex wheat genome — which allows the grain to grow in many parts of the world and under various climatic conditions — requires sequencing multiple wheat genomes.

The genomic analysis published in Nature is led by agricultural geneticist Curtis Pozniak, director of the Crop Development Centre at University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon, Canada. The team investigated a range of wheat varieties in global breeding programs with genomic combinations representing 10 different wheat chromosomes and five genetic assembly structures. Their analysis compared the genomes of these varieties with wild relatives and subsequent domesticated wheat types from their breeding histories.

The results identify genetic varieties with traits that improve yields and strengthen resistance against common threats to wheat crops. One of those findings is gene families expressing proteins with high volumes of the amino acid leucine that protect wheat against crop diseases. Other insights highlight the Sm1 gene that helps wheat resist insects, particularly the orange wheat blossom midge that University of Saskatchewan says causes some $60 million in losses to growers in western Canada.

“Now we have increased the number of wheat genome sequences more than 10-fold, enabling us to identify genetic differences between wheat lines that are important for breeding,” says Pozniak in a university statement. “We can now compare and contrast the full complement of the genetic differences that make each variety unique.” Pozniak adds, “This resource enables us to more precisely control breeding to increase the rate of wheat improvement for the benefit of farmers and consumers, and meet future food demands.”

More from Science & Enterprise:

*     *     *

Building Credibility as a Budding Developer

– Contributed content –

Laptop, side view

(John Schnobrich, Unsplash)

25 Nov. 2020. Besides your hard work, skills, and qualifications, credibility is the most critical and fundamental element you need. The quality of being trusted alongside your product’s positive performance is similar to creating a lasting first impression. Research has shown that over the next 10 years, business demands for software developers is set to rise by at least 22%. So, how do you build credibility as a budding developer, to enable you to stand heads and shoulders above the competition? Take a look at the list below.

1. Build a project portfolio and link it with testimonials

As the product design and development industry continues to march forward at breakneck speed, a certification from a few years ago may not be enough as a budding developer. What matters most is that you are well-versed on modern tech trends and you infuse this knowledge into every project you work on. Building a portfolio enables you to demonstrate your skills and experience and should showcase every job you have done as a developer. Your portfolio acts as a testament to your skillset to your potential clients and employers. Include your testimonials in your portfolio to show off your good qualities through the experience of your happy and satisfied clients. Testimonials indicate a success pattern, which convinces potential clients you can repeat such achievements with their projects.

2. Create a professional website 

The way you present yourself online determines the customers you attract. Even though it is great to have good reviews marketing your brand, your web presence is a quick go-to-place to showcase your expertise. There are many website building platforms, such as WordPress, Wix, or Weebly. These sites make it easier for you to build an interactive and easy-to-use website. You should design your website to give your potential customers a feel of your skillset and make it easy for them to see your professionalism. In some instances, an intuitive client may overlook some level of inexperience if your website communicates professionalism. Be sure to add your contact information to your website. Create an email address connected with your website’s name and avoid using unprofessional addresses with no connection to your online presence.

3. Be consistent in your rates

As a budding developer, the allure to appease clients with super flexible rates is high. You may want to do this to retain clients by presenting yourself as an affordable developer. Unfortunately, you inadvertently create an uneven personalized pricing system among clients if you carry through with this. By so doing, you reduce your worth. This also applies to bidding wars. Although this may be challenging, you need to communicate with clarity and confidence. By exuding this character trait, the potential employer or customer will buy into your self-assurance.

As businesses continue to evolve, it is clear that credibility is becoming a reliable component to retain your customer base. It demonstrates integrity, trustworthiness, and establishes you as a professional force to be reckoned with. Although these three tips can guide you in building credibility as a budding developer, explore other means to do so to gain the success you are looking for within this competitive industry.

*     *     *

Trial Underway Testing Insulin Capsules


(Ranys Tuunainen, Pixabay)

25 Nov. 2020. Researchers began screening participants for a clinical trial assessing insulin formulated as capsules for people with type 2 diabetes. The trial is testing the drug code-named ORMD-0801, sponsored by its developer Oramed Ltd. in New York and Jerusalem, Israel.

Oramed reformulates protein-based therapies as oral drugs, beginning with insulin needed by people with diabetes. Diabetes is a chronic disorder where the pancreas does not create enough of the hormone insulin to process the sugar glucose to flow into the blood stream and cells for energy in the body. In type 2 diabetes, which accounts for at least 90 percent of all diabetes cases, the pancreas produces some but not enough insulin, or the body cannot process insulin. According to the International Diabetes Federation, diabetes affects an estimated 463 million people worldwide, of which 51 million are in North America.

For people with diabetes, insulin needs to injected into the blood since, like other proteins, insulin cannot be taken as an oral drug because it interacts chemically with acids and enzymes in the digestive system. And because insulin is a large, complex molecule, it is not readily absorbed through the wall of the small intestine.  Oramed says its technology enables insulin delivery in a capsule, with a coating that protects the insulin against digestive acids and enzymes. Oramed capsules also have an agent that improves absorption of insulin payloads in the small intestine.

The phase 3, or late-stage, clinical trial is enrolling 675 adult participants in California with type 2 diabetes, but not able to adequately control their blood glucose levels, even with current diabetes drugs. Participants are randomly assigned to receive ORMD-0801 as 8 milligram capsules taken either once or twice a day, or a fish oil placebo for 26 weeks. After 26 weeks, placebo recipients will be assigned to receive ORMD-0801 capsules once or twice a day for another 26 weeks, while ORMD-0801 recipients in the first round will continue taking the capsules once or twice a day as originally assigned.

The study team is looking primarily for changes in blood glucose levels, measured by the standard hemoglobin A1C test after 26 weeks, compared to the beginning of the trial. Researchers are also measuring fasting blood glucose levels, a screening test to detect type 2 diabetes after 26 weeks, compared to the start of the trial.

“ORMD-0801 is the first oral insulin capsule to achieve the requisite efficacy and safety data enabling us to run the world’s first FDA phase 3 oral insulin trial,” says Nadav Kidron, Oramed’s CEO in a company statement. Oramed says it’s planning a second late-stage trial of ORMD-0801 with 450 participants.

More from Science & Enterprise:

*     *     *

Therapist-Guided Home Stroke Rehab System in Works

Stroke rehab objects

Personalized 3-D printed stroke rehab exercise objects (Virginia Tech)

25 Nov. 2020. A university lab is designing a system that allows for people with stroke to perform rehabilitation at home, while still guided remotely by a therapist. The Semi-Automated Rehabilitation At Home, or Sarah, system is being developed by a team at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, funded by a four-year $1.1 million grant from National Science Foundation.

Stroke occurs when blood flow to the brain is interrupted, cutting the oxygen needed by brain cells to function. The vast majority (85%) of strokes are caused by blood clots, while many other strokes are caused by blood vessel leakage in the brain. Recovery, often in rehabilitation clinics, can take months or years of continuous exercises. World Stroke Organization says one in four people worldwide will have a stroke in their lifetime, with nearly 14 million people suffering a stroke each year.

The VTC Smart Rehab Lab at Virginia Tech is designing and building the Sarah system. The lab is an interdisciplinary group bringing together researchers from Virginia Tech’s medical and engineering schools seeking a home-based solution for the time-consuming, long-term rehabilitation faced by people with stroke. In most cases today, rehabilitation requires intensive and expensive one-on-one coaching from a rehab specialist. And, say the researchers, telemedicine with today’s technology cannot provide the in-person interactions between rehab specialist and patient required for meaningful progress to occur.

The Sarah system is built around telemedicine, but adds sensing and monitoring tools to routinely and unobtrusively collect data from the patient about their daily exercises, and general life at home for the therapist. The system is called semi-automated because the therapist still directs and manages the patient’s rehabilitation, just not in the same physical location.

Thanassis Rikakis, a biomedical engineering professor — also professor of music — at Virginia Tech and principal investigator on the project says in a university statement, “The main goal here is that we want to be able to provide much more therapy to many more people at a significantly reduced cost.”

The researchers are using inexpensive and easily deployed technologies for the home. The first Sarah version focuses on exercises for the upper torso, with two video cameras recording the patient’s exercise routines. Exercises are personalized and use 3-D printed plastic weights and objects designed specifically for the patient. And the system has sensors worn on the wrists and fingers, like rings, to record the patient’s activity during the day. Sarah provides real-time feedback to the patient while performing the exercises, and also prepares a summary report to enable the therapist to monitor progress and change the rehab exercises if needed.

Virginia Tech is located in the southwest corner of the state, where many nearby rural counties lack high-speed Internet connections. The campus wireless technologies lab is helping design Sarah to operate over regular cellular networks in the region served by university’s medical center.

In addition, researchers are preparing algorithms to help therapists assess patients’ progress with Sarah. The algorithms use statistical models emulating a therapist’s decision-making process that incorporate data collected with Sarah. Data collected from Sarah systems are expected to contribute to a richer understanding of stroke rehab, as well as provide valuable databases for future machine learning algorithms.

More from Science & Enterprise:

*     *     *

Lightweight AI Chip Designer Raises $2.8M in Seed Funds

Bumble bee and flower

(Daniel Krieg, Wikimedia Commons)

24 Nov. 2020. A new company is designing computer chips and devices with artificial intelligence modeled on insect brains for autonomous vehicles and robotic systems. Opteran Technologies, in Sheffield, U.K., is a spin-off enterprise from University of Sheffield, and raising £2.1 million ($US 2.8 million) in seed funding from venture investors.

Opteran Technologies is designing circuitry for computer chips with embedded artificial intelligence routines that express brain functions of insects. The company’s technology platform called Natural Intelligence includes circuit designs for devices that provide 360 degree vision, sense optical flow for object detection and collision avoidance, direct vehicle movements with an efficient means of simultaneous location and mapping, and offer onboard decision making.

The company is spun-off from the Complex Systems Modeling lab at University of Sheffield led by James Marshall, professor of theoretical and computational biology. Marshall and research fellow Alex Cope, scientific founders of Opteran Technologies, study insects as models for social behavior and decision-making, to capture insights for applications in robotics and autonomous vehicles. The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, a research funding agency in the U.K., is supporting a multi-disciplinary Brains on Board project led by Marshall to design autonomous drone systems with navigational and learning abilities of honey bees.

Opteran says Natural Intelligence reverse engineers insect brain functions, to produce a more direct, efficient, and transparent means of achieving autonomy for drones and other vehicles than current A.I. methods. Most of today’s A.I. processes, says the company, requires sophisticated pattern matching and neural network learning that requires heavy computing power. Opteran’s techniques, however, are captured from simpler insect brain functions and require no extended machine learning. As a result, says Opteran, its simpler lightweight algorithms can be expressed directly in circuitry that the company says are deployable on leading chip types.

The company says its Natural Intelligence development kit requires 30 grams (about 1 ounce) and draws less than a watt of power. In a demonstration of the technology, a flying drone weighing less than 250 grams (0.55 pounds), guided by Opteran chips, was able to navigate with complete onboard autonomy, using a low-resolution panoramic camera.

In the next 18 months, Opteran says it plans to develop Natural Intelligence further to offer a 360 degree camera, sensors for obstacle avoidance and navigation, devices for simultaneous location and mapping, and autonomous decision making. The company expects to market its devices to developers of drones and autonomous vehicles, as well as construction and mining equipment.

Opteran Technologies is raising £2.1 million in its seed funding round, led by technology industry venture investor IQ Capital in Cambridge, U.K. Taking part in the round are Episode1, Join, and Seraphim Capital.

“Already in a position to demonstrate the technology,” says David Rajan, Opteran’s CEO in an IQ Capital statement, “we are confident that Natural Intelligence will become highly sought after as the way to deliver lightweight, low-cost, and effective autonomy in a radically new way that will open up huge growth opportunities for robotics.”

More from Science & Enterprise:

*     *     *

Trial Testing Magnetic Waves for Bipolar Depression

Sad, depressed

(Daniel Reche, Pixabay)

24 Nov. 2020. Researchers are enrolling patients in a clinical trial testing magnetic waves to induce small seizures as a treatment for depression from bipolar disorder. The study, at University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston, seeks to find if magnetic seizure therapy works as well as electroconvulsive therapy, a currently available treatment for uncontrolled bipolar depression.

Bipolar disorder is characterized by sharp mood swings from high-energy euphoria to deep feelings of sadness, sometimes so severe they require hospitalization, if moods generate dangerous or suicidal behavior. Periods of bipolar disorder, which used to be called manic-depression, can last from days or weeks at a time, over periods of years. Treatments can include drugs and counseling, combined with substance abuse treatments, if needed. About one percent of the U.S. population, or 2.3 million individuals are estimated to suffer from bipolar disorder.

Electroconvulsive therapy is a treatment for bipolar depression and other mental disorders in patients that do not respond to other treatments. This treatment, conducted under general anesthesia, sends small electric currents through the skull to induce brief seizures that change the brain’s chemistry to reverse symptoms of psychiatric diseases. While considered a generally safe treatment, some patients experience adverse effects including memory loss and confusion, as well as some physical effects.

Magnetic seizure therapy also seeks to induce brief seizures in patients with uncontrolled bipolar depression, but instead of an electrical current, the treatments use magnetic waves. Strong alternating magnetic field pulses are sent into the brain from a magnetic coil to induce a seizure in specific regions of the brain responsible for depressive symptoms. The treatments aim to increase blood flow in the targeted regions, while limiting exposure to surrounding brain tissue, to reduce adverse cognitive effects.

Salih Selek, professor of psychiatry and behavioral science at UT Health leads the trial. “In this trial, we’ll use a different machine that uses magnetic waves, not electricity, to induce seizures,” says Selek in a UT Health statement. “So instead of sending an electric signal to the brain, it sends magnetic waves to the frontal parietal lobe of the brain, which helps control emotions.”

The clinical trial is enrolling 60 adult patients with bipolar disorder experiencing depression, and who need a rapid response due to their psychiatric or medical condition. Participants are randomly assigned to receive magnetic seizure therapy or electroconvulsive therapy. Both treatments are given under anesthesia two to three times a week, for up to 15 sessions.

The main efficacy measure in the trial is the number of participants achieving remission, based on a standard scale of adult depression symptoms. The study team is also looking for evidence of cognitive impairment among patients, based on another standard rating scale.

Selek notes that the Covid-19 pandemic is increasing stress and depression, making the need for new treatments more urgent. “Sometimes depression in bipolar patients can lead to suicide attempts,” says Selek, “so it is critically important for us to know the best way to treat bipolar depression in patients who’ve already tried all other treatments.”

More from Science & Enterprise:

*     *     *

Natural-Killer Cell Cancer Therapy Biotech Launches

Natural killer cell

Natural killer cell (NIAID, Flickr)

23 Nov. 2020. A new company is underway creating off-the-shelf engineered cells from the immune system as cancer treatments, and raising $42 million in venture funds. Catamaran Bio Inc., in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is spun-off from medical school research labs at University of Minnesota and George Washington University.

Catamaran Bio is developing treatments for cancer based on natural killer cells in the immune system. Like their cousins B- and T-cells, natural killer cells are white blood cells, which act against cells infected by viruses and in early-stage tumors. Catamaran’s technology, called Tailwind, alters donated natural killer cells to express chimeric antigen receptors, or CARs, proteins attracting antibodies that bind to and destroy blood-related and solid tumor cancer cells.

The company says its CAR natural killer or CAR-NK cells are designed for signaling inside cells, which maximizes production of immune-system enzymes aimed at tumor cells. Catamaran says its CAR-NK cells are also programmed to sense and evade the microenvironment that surrounds and supports tumors, as well as suppresses immune system activity against tumors. In addition, says the company, CAR-NK cells can carry larger genetic payloads, increasing their ability to deliver complex, multi-stage cancer treatments. And the company’s therapies are derived from natural killer cells from healthy donors, engineered to be administered as allogenic, or off-the-shelf treatments without relying on the patients’ own cells.

The company says it has two lead cancer treatments, one each for solid tumors and blood-related cancers, still in the discovery/lead-optimization stage. Both CAR-NK therapies, says Catamaran, targets the same antigen that appears on the surface of cancer cells. The company says its preclinical studies indicate the lead treatments show effects against both solid tumor and blood-related cancers, but the company so far is concentrating on solid tumors.

Catamaran Bio’s CAR-NK technology is based on research from the labs of its scientific founders, Branden Moriarity, professor of pediatrics and hematology/oncology at University of Minnesota, and Catherine Bollard, professor of pediatrics, microbiology, immunology, and tropical medicine at George Washington University. Bollard is also on the faculty at Children’s Research Institute, Children’s National Hospital in Washington, D.C. Moriarty and Catamaran are collaborating on natural killer cell engineering in Moriarty’s lab at Minnesota.

“Catamaran is focused on expanding the frontier of cell therapies to treat solid tumors and provide transformative benefit to cancer patients,” says Vipin Suri, Catamaran Bio’s chief scientist in a company statement. “We are doing this by creating allogeneic cell therapies that harness the innate cancer-fighting power of NK cells and enhancing them with new biologically-powerful attributes from our leading-edge technologies, all originating from our custom-built Tailwind platform for designing, engineering, and manufacturing off-the-shelf CAR-NK cell therapies.”

The company was founded earlier this year, and is now raising $42 million in its first venture funding round. Sofinnova Partners in Paris and Lightstone Ventures in Menlo Park, California, both life science investors, led the financing. Taking part in the round are founding investor SV Health Investors, and the venture arms of drug makers Takeda and Astellas.

More from Science & Enterprise:

*     *     *