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Precision Cancer Therapy Start-Up Gains $110M in Early Funds

Human T-cell

Scanning electron micrograph of a healthy human T-cell (NIH.gov)

14 Sept. 2020. A company creating cancer therapies with individualized engineered T-cells is raising $110 million in its first venture funding round. Neogene Therapeutics Inc. in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, is a two-year old enterprise based on research by its co-founder, immunologist Ton Schumacher at Netherlands Cancer Institute in Amsterdam.

Neogene Therapeutics plans to discover and develop precision cancer treatments through preclinical stages. The company’s technology analyzes tumor biopsy samples that often express T-cell receptor genes, through tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes. These lymphocytes, white blood cells in the immune system, generate T-cell receptor genes representing the individualized chemistry of the patient’s tumor, particularly with mutated peptides or proteins in tumors known as neoantigens. Engineered T-cells, then, can target and attack these neoantigens with a high degree of precision.

The company says it uses DNA sequencing, synthesis, and genetic screening to identify T-cell receptor genes with specific patterns of neoantigens from tumor biopsies. Once isolated, the T-cell receptor, or TCR, genes can then form the basis of engineered T-cells designed and produced in sufficient quantities to attack tumors with that specific neoantigen chemistry. Schumacher outlined much of this approach in a Science magazine article in April 2015.

“Neoantigens represent ideal targets for cancer therapy, as they inevitably arise from DNA mutations that enable tumor development in the first place,” says Schumacher in Neogene statement. “Further supporting this concept is clear, correlative evidence linking T-cell reactivity against neoantigens with tumor regression in several patients.”

In addition to Schumaker, Neogene Therapeutics is founded by Carsten Linnemann, the company’s CEO, and biotechnology industry veterans Arie Belldegrun and David Chang. Belldegrun founded Kite Pharma, a pioneering company in engineered T-Cells acquired by Gilead Sciences in August 2017, and co-founded Allogene Therapeutics with Chang. Allogene is developing off-the-shelf T-cell cancer therapies. Schumaker and Linnemann earlier founded the company T-Cell Factory B.V., acquired by Kite Pharma in 2015.

“While engineered T cell therapies have transformed the treatment paradigm for patients with hematologic malignancies,”notes Linnemann, “the industry has struggled to translate this success to the enormous unmet need in patients with advanced solid tumors. We believe that through a fully individualized approach using patient-specific TCRs to target neo-antigens, engineered T cell therapy can become broadly accessible to these patients.”

The $110 million first-round venture financing is led by EcoR1 Capital, Jeito Capital and Syncona, with participation from seed-round investors Vida Ventures, TPG, and Two River, and new investors Polaris Partners and Pontifax.

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