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Start-Up Raises $10.5M for Precision Immunotherapies

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21 Feb. 2019. A new biotechnology enterprise developing personalized treatments that harness the immune system to treat cancer is raising $10.5 million in its first venture funding round. Geneos Therapeutics in Plymouth Meeting, Pennsylvania is spun-off from Inovio Pharmaceuticals, a biotechnology company in Plymouth Meeting and San Diego developing therapies and vaccines that invoke the immune against infectious diseases.

Geneos plans to create new immunotherapies for cancer that target neoantigens, peptides or short chains of amino acids expressed by tumors. These peptides offer targets not only for specific types of cancer, but can also define the personal chemistry of the mutation driving a patient’s tumor. With these targets, says the company, vaccines can be developed that generate an immune response that corresponds directly to that precise neoantigen target.

The company is licensing its immunotherapy technology from Inovio Pharmaceuticals to develop its personalized cancer vaccines. In this technology, called DMab — short for DNA monoclonal antibody — DNA fragments are ingested into cells, where they’re exposed to 3 to 4 mild electrical pulses, which Inovio calls its Cellectra system, increasing the uptake of DNA to generate more antibodies.

Researchers from Geneos, Inovio, and Wistar Institute in Philadelphia that conducted the early research on the process, published results of preclinical tests of the technology. The paper, posted earlier this month in the journal Cancer Immunology Research, shows the vaccine invokes T-cell responses reflecting the neoantigen target, which in turn kill tumor cells in lab mice induced with tumors.

Niranjan Sardesai, former chief operating officer at Inovio and Geneos co-founder, is becoming the Geneos CEO. “My confidence in this start-up, based on industry leading technology,” says Sardesai in a company statement, “rests on the fact that Geneos can create neoantigen-targeting immunotherapies against any cancer.” Sardesai adds, “In addition, Geneos cancer fighting treatments can be designed in days instead of months or years.  This funding will allow us to demonstrate clinical proof-of-concept for treating cancer at an individual patient level.”

The funding Sardesai mentions is $10.5 million raised in the company’s first venture finance round. The funding is led by health care and life science venture investor Santé Ventures in Austin, Texas. Santé invests in early-stage companies, and is joined in the financing by Inovio Pharmaceuticals.

Geneos was formed as a subsidiary of Inovio, but now becomes a stand-alone enterprise. The financing is expected to enable Geneos to establish its independent operations and continue preclinical development of its personalized cancer vaccines.

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