Several companies are working to make cell therapies cheaper and more widely available by making them from donor cells rather than patients' own cells. Notch Therapeutics is going one step further with cancer treatments based on stem cells rather than mature T cells, and it’s raised $85 million to back that mission.
The financing comes about a year after Allogene Therapeutics—one of the biotechs working on off-the-shelf cell therapies—tapped Notch’s technology to develop T-cell and natural killer cell treatments for multiple myeloma, leukemia and non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Allogene, which forked over $10 million upfront for that deal, returned for Notch’s series A round, joining Lumira Ventures, CCRM Enterprise Holdings, EcoR1 Capital, Casdin Capital, Samsara BioCapital and Amplitude Ventures.
The funding will support the development of Notch’s stem-cell based T-cell programs as well as their underpinning technology: Notch’s Engineered Thymic Niche platform. It will also allow Notch to strengthen its team and build out operations in Seattle to complement its sites in Vancouver and Toronto.
“We have great confidence in Notch’s high-caliber management team and the rigorous science underlying its research programs,” Allogene CEO David Chang, M.D., Ph.D., said in a statement. “We are impressed by the company’s innovation and accomplishments and pleased to continue our support of Notch as the company advances the development of a new generation of cell therapies for cancer and other immune disorders.”
Notch’s platform works by mimicking the environment of the human thymus, where stem cells go to mature into T cells, Ulrik Nielsen, Ph.D., executive chairman of Notch, said in a previous interview.
Unlike treatments made from donor cells or a patient’s own cells, Notch’s therapies would be made from a renewable source of genetically identical cells. This would make cell therapy available for many more people.
“Each of those T cells you pull out of the blood from a donor, or even a patient if it’s an autologous cell therapy, each of those will be a little bit different,” Nielsen said. “Maybe they have different T-cell receptors, maybe they’re at different sets of differentiation. There are lots of genetic differences between them as well. We don’t have that when we start with a clonal (stem cell) population.”
Besides the blood cancer programs it’s developing with Allogene, Notch is working on cytotoxic, or cell-killing, T-cell treatments for solid tumors and blood cancers as well as therapies for autoimmune disease and other indications.