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Start-Up Developing Engineered B-Cell Therapies

Human B-cell

Human B-cell (NIAID, Flickr)

22 Oct. 2020. A new enterprise, spun off from Seattle Children’s Research Institute, is creating therapeutics for diseases from engineered B-cells in the immune system. Be Biopharma, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is also raising $52 million in its first venture funding round.

Be Biopharma is commercializing work by immunologists Richard James and David Rawlings at Seattle Children’s Research Institute, who both study B-cells, white blood cells in the immune system that produce antibodies. James and Rawlings are founders of Be Biopharma, along with entrepreneur and venture investor David Steinberg. The company aims to take advantage of the natural ability of B-cells to produce proteins, while refining that process to generate working therapeutics for a range of diseases.

James’s lab at Seattle Children’s studies the biology and engineering of B-cells. The lab focuses on antibody-producing B-cells because of their ability to indefinitely produce proteins, and in quantities similar to many industrial cell lines. The lab’s researchers developed techniques for genetically engineering B-cells, which they say was previously a difficult process. James and colleagues are investigating the optimal conditions for transforming engineered B-cells into long-term antibody producers, and determining the impact of natural processes for cell recycling on B-cells, as well as effects of engineered B-cells on host immune systems.

“B cells play a key role in combating diseases by catalyzing humoral immunity, the arm of the immune system that manufactures large quantities of proteins to neutralize disease-causing pathogens and manipulate immune cell behavior,” says Rawlings in a Be Biopharma statement released through BusinessWire. “Our ambition is to advance the field by building a new class of engineered B cell medicines that will provide direct control over the power of humoral immunity and help transform the prognosis for patients who currently have limited treatment options.”

The company says its engineered B-cells can overcome some of the drawbacks of current cell and gene therapies, notably the inability to provide multiple doses, unpredictable chemical reactions in some individuals, and the need for chemotherapy regimens prior to cell therapies that can be dangerous to patients. Be Biopharma plans to apply its technology to range of diseases, such as cancer, autoimmune disorders, and infectious diseases.

Be Biopharma was formed by venture capital company Longwood Fund in Boston that specializes in life science and health care enterprises. “B cells can be engineered to express a wide variety of proteins, have the potential to generate durable responses, and can be dose-titrated and administered multiple times without the need for toxic preconditioning,” notes Steinberg, the company’s CEO. “Moreover, the varied functions of B cells suggest that B cell medicines can address a range of conditions including autoimmune diseases, cancer, and monogenic disorders, as well as enhance the immune response to infectious pathogens.”

Be Biopharma is raising $52 million in its first venture funding round, led by Atlas Venture and RA Capital Management. Joining the round are Alta Partners, Longwood Fund, and Takeda Ventures.

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