NEA powers next-generation cell and gene therapy startup Senti to $53M series A round

New Enterprise Associates (NEA) has led a $53 million bet on the future of cell and gene therapies. The series A round sets up JLABS resident Senti Biosciences to use advances in synthetic biology to create more targeted, controllable therapies than are advancing down clinical pipelines today.

Cell and gene therapies have started to come of age over the past year, with pioneering approvals for Kite, Novartis and Spark expanding access to the technologies. But there remains scope to develop candidates that are better at hitting targets—while minimizing off-target effects—and that can be dialed up or down on a case-by-case basis to ensure the power of the therapy is appropriate for the severity of the disease.

Senti thinks synthetic biology holds the key to these breakthroughs. The startup’s goal is to design genetic circuits that make cell and gene therapies smarter. These enhanced therapies will zero in on the target tissue and change up their approach in response to the disease conditions they encounter. Senti also wants the power to control the therapies externally.

Lots of work stands between Senti and the realization of that vision but it has persuaded some major investors to back its plans. NEA led the A round with the support of 8VC, Amgen Ventures, Pear Ventures, Lux Capital, Menlo Ventures, Allen & Company, Nest.Bio, Omega Funds, Goodman Capital and LifeForce Capital.

The syndicate has come together to equip Senti to turn progress in synthetic biology into clinical-stage assets targeting cancer, regenerative medicine and autoimmune disease. 

“Synthetic biology has advanced significantly over the last several years, and the team we have assembled at Senti is uniquely capable of capitalizing on its progress to turn adaptive therapies into commercial reality,” Senti CEO and co-founder Tim Lu, M.D., Ph.D., said in a statement. “This funding round will accelerate the scaling of our genetic circuit programming platform and its translation into clinical treatments.” 

Lu, an associate professor at MIT, founded Senti with Philip Lee, who rose to the position of head of cell culture systems marketing at Merck KGaA before setting up the synthetic biology startup. The pair have put together a small team of people with backgrounds in immunology, immuno-oncology and other fields to take the startup forward.

The team is moving several candidates toward the internally clinic and is interesting in partnering to get more of the fruits of its platform shuttling down the pipeline. Given the growing list of companies now betting their futures on cell and gene therapies, there are plenty of potential partners about.