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T-Cell Therapy Company Gains $100M in Venture Funds

T-cells illustration

T-cells (NASA.gov)

23 January 2018. A 2 year-old company developing treatments for cancer and other diseases that activate or suppress the immune system with genetically engineered T-cells is raising $100 million in its first venture funding round. Tmunity Therapeutics Inc., in Philadelphia, is a spin-off enterprise from the medical school at University of Pennsylvania.

The company was founded by Carl June, a pioneer in immunotherapies and director of UPenn’s Center for Cellular Immunotherapies, along with 5 colleagues specializing in immunology, cell biology, and gene therapy. Tmunity has exclusive licensing and collaboration agreements with UPenn to develop treatments initially for cancer, but also infectious diseases and autoimmune disorders, based on research by the Center for Cellular Immunotherapies. These agreements give the company access to lab facilities and talent at UPenn and University of Minnesota.

Tmunity says its technology covers discovery, development, and production of T-cells, from initial selection of cells from a patient to their genetic modification, commercial-scale replication, and delivery back into the patient. The platform also allows for combination with other agents or technologies, and seeks to improve its production processes to remain economical for patients. Among the technologies adapted with Tmunity’s processes are gene editing and delivery of healthy genes to replace aberrant or mutated genes.

The company’s first products are expected to address disease targets identified by UPenn’s researchers with T-cells engineered to express chimeric antigen receptors, known as CAR T-cells, with proteins that bind to and destroy cells expressing characteristic proteins for the disease. Much of the early work at UPenn with CAR T-cells addressed blood-related cancers like leukemia. Tmunity, however, first plans to develop treatments for 2 solid tumor cancers — e.g., breast, skin, or lung cancer — with CAR T-cells, as well as other engineered T-cell receptor proteins. The company says 5 more CAR T-cell and 2 more engineered T-cell receptor programs are in preclinical stages.

Tmunity is raising $100 million in its current financing round with original seed investors Lilly Asia Ventures and UPenn joining new investors Ping An Ventures and biopharmaceutical company Gilead Sciences. Also taking part in the funding round is Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy that supports research on immunotherapies by more than 300 researchers at academic and industry labs. Joining the finance round as well is Be The Match BioTherapies, an affiliate of the National Marrow Donor Program that provides cells for cancer research, and stores and analyzes patient samples.

Other scientific founders of Tmunity are:

 – Bruce Levine, professor of gene therapy and director of UPenn’s Clinical Cell and Vaccine Production Facility

 – Yangbing Zhao, professor of pathology and laboratory medicine at UPenn and director of the university’s T Cell Engineering Laboratory

 – Anne Chew, executive deputy director of UPenn’s Center for Cellular Immunotherapies

 – James Riley, professor of microbiology at UPenn

 – Bruce Blazar, associate vice president of the Academic Health Center at University of Minnesota, vice dean for clinical investigation, and chief of the university’s Pediatric Blood and Marrow Transplantation Program.

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