January 26, 2018 Source: fiercebiotech 145
Tmunity Therapeutics is looking to bring better and safer T-cell therapies for both solid tumors and blood cancers and has scored a $100 million series A to propel it on its journey.
The funding comes from the likes of Ping An Ventures, the Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy, Gilead, the University of Pennsylvania and Lilly Asia Ventures.
The “unprecedented” expertise and level of scientific thinking in the founders and management, as well as the company’s exclusive T-cell R&D and licensing collaboration with the University of Pennsylvania, is what drew the big name investors, CEO Usman “Oz” Azam tells FierceBiotech.
And born out of an exclusive collaboration and license agreement with Penn, Tmunity does feel somewhat like “the band getting back together”—with Azam, who previously led the Cell & Gene Therapies unit at Novartis, and scientific founder Carl June, a professor of immunotherapy and director of the Center for Cellular Immunotherapies at Penn, where Novartis' CAR-T treatment Kymriah was developed.
For Azam, jumping from Big Pharma back into biotech was a no-brainer: "The most important thing was the science, innovation and the speed with which things are moving in the cell and gene space, coupled with the fact that you get to work on transformative therapies that are potentially curative," he said. "That's something I never would have said seven or eight years ago."
Tmunity has two programs in the clinic via the university—a CAR-T program in prostate cancer and a TCR program, the first CRISPR-edited TCR program in the U.S., Azam said.
The funding will be used to advance and expand Tmunity’s business and operational structure, the company said. Azam could not comment on hiring plans or staff numbers, but he did say that in addition to its access to Penn’s facilities, Tmunity has its own GMP facility outside the university in Philadelphia.
“We are focusing on early-process science and development [at that site],” Azam said, but as programs mature, the company has plans to make it a multifunctional facility.
For now, all early phase 1 trials, as well as some manufacturing, will be conducted out of Penn facilities, Azam said. As the company grows and needs to scale up, tech transfer to its own facilities will be key, he said.
With the first CAR-T approvals of Novartis’ Kymriah and Gilead and Kite’s Yescarta last year, the T-cell therapy field is coming of age, Azam said, and it’s an exciting time for companies like Tmunity.
“I certainly think [the approvals] have had a helping hand in terms of a field that is validated with commercially approved products. I think folks who were skeptical are not as skeptical now,” he said.
As for Tmunity, it hopes to become a company that focuses on both solid tumors and hematological malignancies, as well as incorporating other technologies such as gene editing.
“We’re trying to get to the clinic as fast as possible and address unmet need,” Azam said. “The initial CAR-T therapies have done an amazing job getting through to patients. So many more patients are going to benefit from the type of work we and other companies are doing.”
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