Giving highly funded but secretive Moderna a run for its money, Juno-lite Sana raises $700M

Sana Biotechnology has got some major backing after coming out with a huge $700 million initial funding round and the ex-financial and research team from Juno Therapeutics.

The Seattle biotech, which is focused on a series of targets using, among others, stem cell and gene control platforms, rakes in this major swag from a who’s who of VCs including: Arch Venture Partners, Flagship Pioneering, Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, Baillie Gifford, F-Prime Capital, Alaska Permanent Fund, the Public Sector Pension Investment Board, Bezos Expeditions, GV, Omega Funds, Altitude Life Science Ventures and “multiple unnamed institutional investors.”

What’s it for? Well, lots of things: “Proceeds from Sana’s financing will be used to advance discovery and development within the company’s core platforms, including gene delivery, immunology, stem cell biology, and gene modification and control,” it said in a brief statement.

“Some approaches include in vivo delivery of genetic payloads to specific cells, ex vivo genetic modifications that hide allogeneic cells from a patient’s immune system, and applying stem cell biology to make differentiated cells to replace missing or damaged tissue.”

The cash is also expected to support IND-enabling and early clinical studies “for multiple therapeutic candidates” as well the build-out of manufacturing capabilities and boosting its exec and staffer count.

Last year, Sana licensed technology from Harvard University to further its efforts to develop off-the-shelf cell therapies. The goal is to genetically modify and differentiate stem cells to create cell therapies that are cloaked from the immune system.

Using this, Sana said at the time it plans to harness these resources to create off-the-shelf cell therapies capable of treating a range of diseases. To achieve that goal, Sana will need to find ways to stop the immune system from rejecting the cells as non-self.

“Sana is dedicated to modulating genes in cells as well as replacing damaged cells in the body,” explained Steve Harr, M.D., president and CEO of Sana and former chief financial officer of CAR-T biotech Juno (which was snapped by Celgene, then became part of Bristol Myers Squibb) as well as a former analyst.

“The commitment from this group of long-term investors enables us to concentrate on making discoveries that overcome the most important challenges to making gene and cell therapies that improve the lives of a broad swath of patients. I am proud of our progress to date in turning our technologies into potential therapies for serious diseases such as cancer, central nervous system diseases, heart disease and various genetic disorders.”

Its head of research, Sunil Agarwal, M.D., also ran R&D at Juno, with another Juno alum, former vice president of translational science Paul Brunetta, M.D., taking up a similar role at Sana.