New Kid Tmunity Banks $100M From Gilead and Facebook Billionaire Sean Parker
By Mark Terry
Tmunity Therapeutics closed on a Series A financing worth $100 million. Syndicate investors included Ping An Ventures, Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy, Gilead Sciences, and Be The Match BioTherapies. They joined seed round investors, the University of Pennsylvania and Lilly Asia Ventures.
Tmunity focuses on next-generation immuno-oncology, including utilizing CRISPR gene editing technology to modify T-cells to work against solid tumors. The company’s scientific founders are Usman “Oz” Azam, who headed up Novartis’ cell and gene therapy division prior to its approval for the CAR-T therapy Kymriah, and Carl June, a researcher at Penn.
The funds raised will partly go towards funding two clinical trials that have already opened, although patients haven’t been dosed yet. Both trials employ genetically modified T-cells. The CAR-T therapeutic trial targets the prostate specific membrane antigen (PSMA) in prostate tumors.
The second trial utilizes CRISPR to edit human T-cells. Both trials are taking place at the University of Pennsylvania.
The investors are an interesting mix. Gilead, which acquired CAR-T company Kite only two months before its CAR-T product, axicabtagene ciloleucel (Yescarta), was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for refractory aggressive non-Hodgkin lymphoma, diffuse large B-cell lymphoma (DLBCL), transformed follicular lymphoma (TFL) and primary mediastinal B-cell lymphoma (PPMBCL). The Parker Institute was backed by Facebook billionaire Sean Parker, which provides institutional support to six academic centers, including Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, Stanford Medicine, the University of California, Los Angeles, the University of California, San Francisco, the University of Pennsylvania and The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. Ping An Ventures is the venture arm of the Ping An Insurance (Group) Company of China. Be The Match partners with organizations working on cellular therapies.
“Tmunity was created to integrate and advance proprietary, novel approaches to cell and gene therapies and we have pursued an equally unique approach to the selection of our visionary funding partners,” said Azam, Tmunity’s president and chief executive officer, in a statement.
“Tmunity is unlike any other cell-based immunotherapy ‘start-up’ because of the unrivaled expertise of its scientific founders and leadership team in cell and gene therapy and its proven translational and manufacturing success in T-cell medicine,” said Jiang Zhang, Managing Partner of Ping An Ventures, in a statement. “We were also attracted to the global potential of the pipeline, especially the T-cell therapies in oncology in China, as well as the scope beyond oncology into autoimmune and infectious diseases, as we begin to expand our investment portfolio.”
John Carroll, writing for Endpoints News, reached out to the Parker Institute to ask why they funded the company. Michael Polansky, president of the Parker Group and a member of the Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy board of directors told him, “As you know, Carl June at the University of Pennsylvania is such a giant in the field of cell therapy and CAR-T, such a pioneer, which is why we wanted to bring him on as director at the Parker Institute. His leadership and insight into the field of cell therapy are invaluable.
“With him as scientific founder of Tmunity, that gave us a lot of confidence that the technology and the science will be top tier. And from what we’ve seen, there’s no question that they have a solid plan for developing the next wave of successful cell and gene therapies, really translating those discoveries so they can be developed into therapies at an accelerated pace to help more cancer patients faster.”