Betting on both types of CAR-T, Tessa grabs $126M series A to push assets through clinic

Anticipating the challenges in CAR-T therapy development, Singapore’s Tessa Therapeutics has hedged its bets by developing two different types of the anticancer drug and will now use proceeds from a $126 million series A funding round to push its assets through clinical trials.

The biotech's CAR-T therapies target cancer cells expressing the CD30 protein. TT11 is an autologous treatment—like every approved CAR-T to date—which means it is based on donations of a patient’s own cells. The other asset, dubbed TT11X, is an allogeneic—also known as an "off-the-shelf"—therapy, which uses engineered cells collected from a third party.

This financing will be instrumental to helping us achieve several key near-term milestones, including the initiation of a pivotal clinical trial of our TT11 program and advancement of our TT11X program,” John Ng, Tessa’s chief technology officer and acting CEO, said in a statement. 

Data from the pilot stage of the ongoing phase 2 Chariot trial of TT11, demonstrated a favorable safety profile and efficacy in relapsed or refractory CD30-positive classical Hodgkin lymphoma, said the biotech. The study showed a complete response rate of 57.1% and an overall response rate of 71.4%. Tessa expects to advance the asset into the main stage of the phase 2 trial later this year.

Meanwhile, the allogeneic therapy TT11X is designed from Tessa’s CD30.CAR EBVST platform to overcome the toxicity challenges common to off-the-shelf cell therapies, such as graft-versus-host disease, by using augmented virus-specific T cells. Phase 1 study data unveiled in December 2021 demonstrated a favorable safety profile and signs of efficacy, with a complete disappearance of tumors reported in four of the nine patients, Tessa said at the time.

No allogeneic CAR-Ts have yet been approved, although companies like Precision BioSciences have candidates in the clinic. “Our long-term goal is to develop this [allogeneic] platform to tackle a broad range of cancers,” Ng said.

The series was led by Polaris Partners, with the firm’s managing partners Amy Schulman and Darren Carroll joining Tessa’s board of directors. Existing investors like Temasek, EDBI, Heliconia Capital and Heritas Capital also participated in the round.