On the heels of a new partnership with AbbVie, Caribou Biosciences is reeling in $115 million to keep improving its CRISPR technology and shepherd its pipeline of allogeneic, or off-the-shelf, cell therapies into and through the clinic.
Caribou’s most advanced program is CB-101, an anti-CD19 CAR-T therapy that’s in phase 1 in B cell non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Its second program, CB-011, is a BCMA-targeting CAR-T in development for the treatment of multiple myeloma. A third asset targets CD371 for the treatment of acute myeloid leukemia. The company is developing all three programs for patients whose cancer has come back despite undergoing other treatments or did not respond to those treatments in the first place.
The FDA has approved four CAR-T treatments for blood cancers from Novartis, Gilead’s Kite unit and Bristol Myers Squibb, but all four treatments are autologous, meaning they are made with a patient’s own cells. Caribou and other companies taking the allogeneic tack are building their treatments with donor cells in hopes that this will clear some hurdles that come with the autologous route.
Autologous treatments can be complex and time-consuming to make—cells must be taken out of the patient, modified to fight cancer and then put back into the patient—and some patients simply don’t have that much time. Other patients may not have enough T cells, or T cells of good enough quality, to make those treatments.
And Caribou isn’t stopping at CAR-T. It is also working on an allogeneic natural killer cell therapy derived from induced pluripotent stem cells for solid tumors.
“Caribou has built a remarkable and highly differentiated technology platform along with a pipeline of novel therapeutic candidates which hold breakthrough potential,” said Santhosh Palani, Ph.D., partner at PFM Health Sciences, who joined Caribou’s board as part of the financing.
PFM led the series C round alongside Farallon Capital Management and Ridgeback Capital Investors. Caribou’s backers returned for the financing, including Heritage Medical Systems, Maverick Ventures, and Pontifax Global Food and Agriculture Technology Fund, while several newcomers also joined in, including AbbVie Ventures, Janus Henderson Investors and The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society Therapy Acceleration Program.
In addition to propelling Caribou’s pipeline, the capital will also bankroll the development of the CRISPR technology it uses to make its cell therapies. The funding follows the AbbVie deal, which saw Caribou snag $40 million upfront, with $300 million promised down the line.