Be Bio uses Arch Venture-led $130M financing round to harness 'power of the B cell'

Move over, A: B is taking the lead now, with Be Biopharma closing out a $130 million financing round backed by several industry leaders that will fuel its engineered B cells platform.

The biotech aims to usher in a new era of medicine, with a total of $180 million committed to the company since its founding 18 months ago. The most recent funding—you guessed it, a series B round—was led by Arch Venture Partners, which added Be Biopharma to its portfolio of over 150 life sciences and tech companies. Other investors include Bristol Myers Squibb, Atlas Venture, RA Capital Management, Alta Partners, Longwood Fund and Takeda Ventures.

Using its autologous and allogeneic engineered B-cell medicine platform, Be Biopharma will channel the funds into advancing pipeline candidates initially targeting oncology and rare diseases, though the company has yet to publicly disclose clinical timelines.

“What sets engineered B cell medicines apart is the profound and broad potential for patient impact,” Joanne Smith-Farrell, Ph.D., director and CEO of Be Bio, told Fierce Biotech. Smith-Farrell, along with Be Bio’s chief scientific officer Rick Morgan, Ph.D., both recently exited bluebird bio, a biotech that ran into trouble when the FDA put a clinical hold on its sickle cell gene therapy as it tried to spin off its oncology pipeline.

However, Smith-Farrell only sees blue skies ahead with Be Bio—and other prominent industry leaders agree. She will be joined on the board of directors by Steve Gillis, Ph.D., managing director at Arch Venture Partners and a pioneer in the field of cytokines. Gillis also serves as director at both Homology Medicines and Takeda Pharmaceuticals, along with as director and chairman for Codiak Biosciences and VBI Vaccines. Both Robert Nelsen, co-founder and managing director of Arch, and Robert Plenge, M.D., Ph.D., senior vice president and head of the Immunology, cardiovascular and fibrosis thematic research center at Bristol Myers Squibb, are joining Be Bio’s board as observers. 

The biotech’s team has expanded from two employees at its conception in October 2020 to 65, said Smith-Farrell, who expects the company’s high rate of growth to continue. Initially focused on building out its research team and leadership roles, Be Bio is refocusing a significant amount of recruiting force to manufacturing. The Cambridge, Massachusetts-based company also just relocated to a new 26,000-square-foot building.

“Coming into our facility, the first thing you see on the wall is ‘Eyes locked on the patient. Every decision. Always,’” Smith-Farrell said. “That’s what guides the biotech team creating the new class of cell therapies.”

The motto also guides Be Bio’s clinical timelines, according to the CEO. There’s a sense of urgency underlying the biotech’s work because every member of the team is keenly aware of the patients in clinic right now who could benefit from the therapies.

Prototypes have shown the platform's potential to rapidly unlock a pipeline of product candidates across a variety of diseases. This versatility means the company could reach beyond its initial targets of cancer and rare disease to address infectious disease, neurological conditions, autoimmune disease and more, Smith-Farrell pointed out.

“The human B cell produces thousands of proteins per second. Be Bio is harnessing this remarkable cell to engineer a new class of cellular medicines that produce durable therapeutic proteins in vivo with the potential ability to dose titrate, and re-dose when required, without the need for toxic pre-conditioning,” said Smith-Farrell.  

Looking to future financing rounds, Smith-Farrell said Be Bio’s focus is on building the transformative platform and ensuring it can achieve best value for patients, adding she was grateful to have a group of experienced and committed investors backing the company.

“The power of the B cell presents an exceptionally profound opportunity,” Smith-Farrell said. “Academics have tried for a long time to engineer B cells and now we have that technology. The time for this technology is now.”