JPM 2022: Moderna finds Carisma's macrophage tech compelling enough for $45M cancer research deal

Moderna is doling out a little bit of its COVID-19 vaccine cash in a $45 million oncology research deal with Carisma Therapeutics to pick up to a dozen targets for development and commercialization.

The mRNA expert added to the flurry of companies announcing small partnerships and deals on the first day of the annual J.P. Morgan healthcare conference.

Details on the new collaboration were pretty slim. The strategic collaboration will see the companies discover and develop in vivo engineered chimeric antigen receptor monocyte, or CAR-M, therapeutics for cancer.

Moderna’s mRNA and lipid nanoparticle delivery technology will be combined with Carisma’s expertise in engineered macrophage biology to enable “a potentially game-changing opportunity for engineered macrophages,” according to Carisma CEO and President Steven Kelly.

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Carisma will receive the $45 million upfront and an investment from Moderna worth $35 million. The biotech will also be eligible for development, regulatory and commercial milestones, which were not detailed. Carisma will handle discovery and optimization, and Moderna will lead clinical development and commercialization from any treatments that result from the partnership.

Macrophages are a type of immune cell that patrol throughout the body and engulf cellular waste, foreign organisms and other things that might pose a threat. In cancer, tumors can change these cells to work in their favor and support the growth of the disease.

Carisma, which was born out of the University of Pennsylvania, is developing a way to attach tumor antigen-specific CARs to macrophages in an attempt to overcome the traditional limitations of CAR-T cells. These cells have so far been unhelpful in battling solid tumors, because they are typically unable to work in the immunosuppressive microenvironment that surrounds the tumors.

The biotech is backed by AbbVie, which led a series A financing in 2018 and later piled on more cash in an extension of the funding round.