Sangamo vet Gary Lee joins synthetic biology outfit Senti as CSO

During his tenure at Sangamo, Lee worked on T-cell engineering, including CAR-T therapies for cancer and T-cell therapies for HIV. (Gary Lee)(Senti Biosciences)

Gary Lee, Ph.D., a 13-year veteran of Sangamo Therapeutics, has joined Senti Biosciences as its new chief scientific officer. In his new role, Lee will head up the expansion of Senti’s synthetic biology platform and oversee the advancement of oncology cell therapy programs into the clinic.

During his tenure at Sangamo, Lee worked on T-cell engineering, including CAR-T therapies for cancer and T-cell therapies for HIV. His most recent post at Sangamo was vice president of cell therapy. His role there allowed him to have "a front-row seat” to the development of cell therapy over the years. That experience gave him deep expertise in gene editing and what it can do, but it also highlighted that some problems require different solutions. That’s what drew him to Senti.

“What I want to be careful to say is that we can use different tools to do different things,” Lee said. “Gene editing is good for solving one sort of problem. I was in that field for more than 10 years and I’m very familiar with that tool and the problems it can solve.” What he wanted to do next was to join a leading synthetic biology company “to apply a different set of tools to a different set of problems.”

Senti's work centers on synthetic gene circuits that make cell and gene therapies "smarter"—that is, making them adaptive, or able to "respond dynamically," to the disease conditions they encounter. The company also aims to make such therapies controllable in vivo once they are delivered. One such therapy is a split, universal and programmable (SUPRA) CAR-T system that its creators dub the “Swiss army knife” of CAR-T.

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The company is working on cell therapies for both solid tumors and blood cancers and is “investigating partnerships with companies” to go beyond oncology, according to a statement.

“We are excited to have Gary join us as Chief Scientific Officer. Gary has spent his entire career building cell and gene therapies from the ground up, and brings a wealth of experience to the Senti team, both as a scientist and executive,” said Senti CEO Tim Lu in the statement. “Gary’s technical expertise in engineering T cells and translating cell and gene therapies into the clinic will be critical as we continue to move toward human trials.”

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Lee’s move comes four months after his fellow Sangamo alum, Curt Herberts, signed on as Senti’s chief financial officer and chief business officer. While he’s looking forward to teaming up with Herberts again, Lee said his own transition to Senti was in the works long before Herberts joined. 

“I’ve been here for a couple of weeks now. My first focus has been to really immerse myself into the platform and understand the various synthetic biology tools Senti is developing,” Lee said. 

He couldn’t get into details but said the company is working on a whole set of tools, including the SUPRA system, that can hone cell therapies to particular tumors and control the therapies once they are inside the body.