At the dawn of 2019, Tmunity Therapeutics laid out an “aggressive” plan to unveil new targets, move programs into the clinic and boost its headcount. As it delivers on some of those goals, the cell therapy biotech is coming back to the well for a $75 million series B that will take it into phase 2 studies in 2021.
Since CEO Usman “Oz” Azam detailed those ambitions at the J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference, the company has moved a third program into clinical trials and grown from 34 staffers to 47. It’s also hard at work on its manufacturing site, which will complement its facility at the University of Pennsylvania.
Born out of an extensive collaboration and licensing agreement with Penn, Tmunity’s co-founders include a who’s who of cell therapy—including Carl June, Bruce Levine, Yangbing Zhao, Anne Chew and Jim Riley—and carried out its early phase 1 work and some manufacturing at the university’s site. Azam expects its GMP facility to be online for phase 2 studies in 2021.
“We’ve been developing our in-house vector capabilities to be ready to manufacture in-house GMP-grade vector by September of next year,” Azam told FierceBiotech. “We’re on track to be GMP manufacturing ready for 2021, with the benefit that we can also manufacture product at Penn.”
“It’s an exciting time to bring on additional strategic and visionary investors to complement the investors we already have,” he said. The new funding will bankroll R&D, clinical development and manufacturing both for the vectors that deliver Tmunity’s treatments as well as the cell therapies themselves. Tmunity plans to present data for its CRISPR-edited T-cell receptor therapy for melanoma, myeloma and synovial sarcoma at the American Society of Hematology's annual meeting in December.
Early last year, the Philadelphia-based biotech raked in $100 million in its series A round from Ping An Ventures, the Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy, Gilead Sciences and Be The Match BioTherapies, along with its seed investors the University of Pennsylvania and Lilly Asia Ventures. Three months later, Beth Seidenberg, then of Kleiner Perkins, pitched in another $35 million.
Now, Tmunity is adding Andreessen Horowitz, aka a16z, the American Cancer Society and Seidenberg’s new VC shop Westlake Village Biopartners to the mix.
“The strategic purpose in getting a group like Andreessen Horowitz as part of our family of investors is that they’ve been exemplary in the tech space,” Azam said. “Technology enablement is a very important part of this company in our evolution for the future ... particularly when we start thinking about real-world data sets and as we think about AI technologies. Replication of technology enables the creation of products and outcomes for patients.”
Jorge Conde, a general partner at Andreessen Horowitz who is joining Tmunity’s board, called the company the “dream team” to “deliver on the bold and promising mission to cure disease using engineered T-cells," in a statement.
It was this dream team of June, Azam et al. that drew Seidenberg to invest last year. At the time, Kleiner Perkins announced it was backing Tmunity, along with its “affiliates,” to the tune of $35 million. That affiliate turned out to be Westlake, Seidenberg’s new Los Angeles-based VC firm she founded with Sean Harper, Amgen’s former R&D chief.
“It was actually the last investment I made at Kleiner and the first I made at Westlake,” she said. “We came back through the Westlake fund to double down, so to speak … And during the series A period of time, they’ve advanced another program in the the clinic. The pipeline is maturing very nicely and I expect we’ll have another few INDs on the way soon. It’s really an exciting opportunity to be a part of.”
As Tmunity looks toward mid-phase trials in 2021, Azam expects to bring at least one more program into the clinic, maybe two.
“If the FDA buys into our plan, we remain optimistic,” he said.
Tmunity brought in a glypican 2 CAR-T treatment for brain cancer from the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia earlier this month, and Azam hinted that there would be more deals coming up soon.