Be Biopharma debuts with $52M to advance engineered B-cell therapies

“Our mission is to develop what we see as a new class of cell medicines that have a broad new pharmacology,” Aleks Radovic-Moreno, Ph.D., said of B cells’ potential. “We think it's a big new white space that's enabled by the rich biology of these cells.” (Be Biopharma)(Courtesy Be Biopharma)

You may have heard of T cells, but Aleks Radovic-Moreno, Ph.D., Be Biopharma’s co-founder, president and director, is betting on B cells as the future of cell therapies.

“Our mission is to develop what we see as a new class of cell medicines that have a broad new pharmacology,” he said of B cells’ potential. “We think it's a big new white space that's enabled by the rich biology of these cells.”

The Cambridge, Massachusetts-based company is capitalizing early on research by scientists at Seattle Children’s Research Institute and the University of Washington School of Medicine. With a $52 million series A round in the bank, it's making a beeline for the clinic.

Why the enthusiasm around B cells? The way Radovic-Moreno sees it, they're “the cellular gadget, if you will, that's really good at making large amounts of protein, and they also traffic to where you want them to go."

“When we think about it from a drug development standpoint, now you have a system that can make a protein that you want in high quantities in places where you want it to be made,” he added.

B cells may also be useful for targeting specific tissues and modulating microenvironments, or “[talking] to the cells that are nearby,” he said. 

One of the biggest challenges to bringing Be Bio to fruition was making the products themselves. They’re harder to engineer than other cell types thanks to their “intrinsic biology,” Radovic-Moreno said. They’re also hard to make correctly and in large quantities, challenges the company only recently overcame.

“Those two are the final two bottlenecks that were preventing B cells from being a viable stem cell therapy modality,” he said.

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The applications of B cells include everything from autoimmune diseases to cancer and monogenic disorders, which are caused by variation in a single gene. B-cell therapy could eliminate the need for patients with monogenic disorders who are missing proteins to get biweekly four-hour infusions.

And that's not all. It could also eliminate the need for bone marrow transplants in these patients, as well as the need for a pre-therapy round of chemotherapy, otherwise known as conditioning. For cancer patients who need conditioning ahead of a stem cell treatment, the regimen can be deadly up to 10% of the time.

That's “extraordinary if you think about a therapy killing patients 10% of the time,” Radovic-Moreno said.

Beyond pushing Be's pipeline toward the clinic, the new funding—from Atlas Venture, RA Capital Management, Alta Partners, Longwood Fund and other investors—will bankroll potential partnerships and build out the company's team.

“The most important thing is to build a great company, hire the best people. We want to be the best B-cell engineers in the world and in history,” Radovic-Moreno said. “We want to fully capitalize on the timing of this, given that it's a very kind of unusual place to be in this time and age of biotech, where you're sitting right in front of this massive blue wave, big blue ocean of possibilities so big.”

Editor's note: This story has been updated to specify the organizations who contributed early research on B cells.