Bayer's VC arm leads $105M round for 'gene circuit' startup Senti Bio

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Leaps by Bayer has led a chunky $105 million series B round for next-gen gene therapy player Senti Biosciences.

Nearly three years after its initial $53 million series A, Senti Bio now has now doubled its funding, adding Bayer’s VC arm into the mix and continuing in 2021 its ongoing mission to become a broad gene therapy player.

Fierce 15 winner Senti Bio’s approach involves what it calls “gene circuits,” essentially tweaking a cell’s genetic code which can morph in order to address the severity of a disease, all the while limiting side effects.

The Californian biotech is applying its gene circuit tech specifically toward allogeneic chimeric antigen receptor natural killer (CAR-NK) cells, a growing area of interest in oncology.

Senti Bio’s lead assets out of this platform include SENTI-202 for acute myeloid leukemia (AML), SENTI-301 for hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) and others for “undisclosed solid tumor targets.”

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And it’s not just cancer: Senti Bio believes it’s on to something big, and it says it can also target a whole host of other areas and gene therapy delivery modalities, such as immunology, neuroscience, cardiovascular disease, regenerative medicine and genetic diseases.

It also believes it has the “potential to move from treatment to cure,” according to a statement, though, as ever, this will need to be proven in the clinic.

While all still early-stage, some big-name investors clearly have faith in Senti’s lofty ambitions: Leaps by Bayer was joined by Amgen’s VC arm as well as Matrix Partners China, Mirae Asset Capital, Ridgeback Capital, Intel Capital, New Enterprise Associates, 8VC and Lux Capital.

“We are grateful for the support of new and existing investors, including Leaps by Bayer, who believe in our mission of developing gene circuits to program smart cell and gene therapies to improve health outcomes for many people,” said Tim Lu, M.D., Ph.D., co-founder and chief of Senti Bio.

“Over the past two years, our team has designed, built and tested thousands of sophisticated gene circuits to drive a robust product pipeline, focused initially on allogeneic CAR-NK cell therapies for difficult-to-treat liquid and solid tumor indications. I look forward to continued platform and pipeline advancements, including starting IND-enabling studies in 2021.”