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Synthetic Biology Company Raises $105M in New Funds

DNA chip graphic

(Gerd Altmann, Pixabay)

7 Jan. 2021. A company developing cellular and genetic therapies for cancer designed like electronic circuits is raising $105 million in its second venture round. The new funding for Senti Biosciences, a three year-old enterprise in South San Francisco, California, is led by Leaps by Bayer, the investment arm of drug maker Bayer in Leverkusen, Germany.

Senti Bio designs cancer therapies with computer-like logic with synthetic genes programmed to operate like software in engineered immune system cells. Current therapies, says the company, are taken systemically rather than targeting specific tissues, have only a single way of working in the body, and cannot be adjusted for the severity of the disease, nor can they be regulated once taken.

Senti Biosciences’ gene circuit therapies allow for cells to be programmed with instructions from synthetic genes, providing more control over delivery of therapies to address varying levels of severity, and even multiple illnesses at once. In addition, says the company, gene circuits can act as sensors for disease indicators, deliver treatments to precise locations in the body, and build in safeguards against adverse effects. Moreover, says the company, gene circuits can be designed, built, and tested with much the same iterative development approach as integrated circuits.

Two cancer therapies with engineered circuits

Senti Bio has two cancer therapies in development, both off-the-shelf natural killer T-cells engineered to express chimeric antigen receptors and containing gene circuits. SENTI-202 is designed to treat acute myeloid leukemia, a blood-related cancer mainly affecting adults that originates in bone marrow. For SENTI-202, Senti Bio adds a synthetic gene circuit to natural killer T-cells with chimeric antigen receptors, or CAR NK T-cells, which the company says will be able to treat multiple variations of acute myeloid leukemia.

The company’s second cancer therapy candidate, code-named SENTI-301, is designed to treat hepatocellular carcinoma, or liver cancer. Senti Bio says SENTI-301 adds a gene circuit to CAR NK T-cells that attack tumor cells in the liver as well as their supporting microenvironment. The company says therapeutic payloads in SENTI-301 will be adjustable to optimize safety and efficacy.

“Over the past two years,” says Senti Bio co-founder and CEO Tim Lu in a company statement, “our team has designed, built and tested thousands of sophisticated gene circuits to drive a robust product pipeline, focused initially on allogeneic CAR-NK cell therapies for difficult-to-treat liquid and solid tumor indications.” Lu adds that Senti Bio expects to begin preclinical studies this year, leading to an investigational new drug application to FDA, in effect a request to begin clinical trials.

Senti Bio is raising $105 million in its second venture funding round, led by Leaps by Bayer. Taking part in the round are current investors NEA, 8VC, Amgen Ventures, and Lux Capital, as well as new investors Matrix Partners China, Mirae Asset Capital, Ridgeback Capital, and Intel Capital. Science & Enterprise reported on the company’s launch and first venture round in February 2018.

“We believe that synthetic biology will become an important pillar in next-generation cell and gene therapy,” says Leaps by Bayer head Jürgen Eckhardt, “and that Senti Bio’s leadership in designing and optimizing biological circuits fits precisely with our ambition to prevent and cure cancer and to regenerate lost tissue function.”

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