The Treg field is heating up. A week after Sonoma Bio snagged a meaty $265 million round to advance its regulatory T-cell (Treg) programs, GentiBio is getting off a $157 million series A to do the same.
The proceeds will propel the company’s lead program, a treatment for Type 1 diabetes, toward the clinic, as well as bankroll earlier-stage work in autoimmune liver disease and acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) linked to viral pneumonia, said GentiBio CEO Adel Nada, M.D.
With its engineered Tregs, the company aims to create functional cures for these and other autoimmune, autoinflammatory and allergic diseases. In the case of Type 1 diabetes, GentiBio hopes the treatment will free patients from, or reduce their reliance on, insulin injections. It plans to start IND-enabling studies for the program later this year.
“The immune response evolved to react to threats very quickly, to react in a way that the collateral damage that is induced … is the price we are all paying for this kind of protection,” Nada said. “Because of this, elements of the immune system have evolved to keep it in check,” he added, referring to Tregs.
As their name suggests, regulatory T cells regulate or suppress other cells in the immune system to make sure it doesn’t go into overdrive and cause unwanted inflammatory and immune responses. But they don’t work well in some people, leading to autoimmune diseases.
Giving patients engineered Tregs to address autoimmune responses is not a new idea, but traditional methods have made these cells difficult to harness.
“If you want to work with endogenous Tregs, you have to fish them out of the blood,” Nada said. And, as if extracting these rare T cells from the blood weren’t hard enough, not all Tregs are created equal. Because they are so diverse, it’s challenging to pinpoint and purify the best Tregs from a patient’s blood.
With its technology, GentiBio is working on both autologous and allogeneic Treg treatments, meaning treatments based on cells taken from a patient’s own blood as well as those from donor cells. It modifies the cells with a chimeric antigen receptor or a T-cell receptor so they can home in on diseased tissue and “discharge immune suppressant functions and control the autoimmune response and inflammation,” Nada said.
The company is working to make the Treg treatments “tunable” with a small-molecule drug, so doctors can dial their activity up or down depending on the course of a patient’s disease. Nada envisions using biomarkers to predict when a patient’s disease is worsening and then quickly intervening with the small molecule to head off a relapse.
The series A funding, from Matrix Capital Management, Avidity Partners, JDRF T1D Fund, OrbiMed, RA Capital Management, Novartis Venture Fund and Seattle Children’s Research Institute, will also support GentiBio’s growth. This includes building out its R&D and corporate units in Boston as well as its manufacturing in Seattle.
As it expands its infrastructure, GentiBio will need to build its team. The company is about 17 strong and plans to grow to about 100 people in the next 18 months, Nada said.