Senti Biosciences in $645M Spark pact to drive gene circuits into the fast lane

Roche’s gene therapy unit Spark Therapeutics has penned a $645 million-plus biobucks pact with Bayer-backed Senti Biosciences for new tech aimed at tweaking next-gen gene therapies.

Under the deal, Spark will maneuver Senti Bio’s gene circuit tech to drive the development of gene therapy 2.0. specifically directed toward specific cell types in the central nervous system, eye or liver.

Fierce 15 winner Senti Bio’s approach involves what it calls “gene circuits,” essentially tweaking a cell’s genetic code which can morph in order to address the severity of a disease, all the while limiting side effects.

Internally, the Californian biotech is applying its gene circuit tech specifically toward allogeneic chimeric antigen receptor natural killer cells, a growing area of interest in oncology.

Senti Bio’s lead assets out of this platform include SENTI-202 for acute myeloid leukemia, SENTI-301 for hepatocellular carcinoma and others for “undisclosed solid tumor targets.”

And it’s not just cancer: Senti Bio believes it’s on to something big, and it says it can also target a whole host of other areas and gene therapy delivery modalities such as immunology, neuroscience, cardiovascular disease, regenerative medicine and genetic diseases.

At the start of the year, it got off a major $105 million series B funding round, building on the initial $53 million it got off three years back. It also has the backing of some big names, with Leaps by Bayer and Amgen’s VC arm as well as Matrix Partners China, Mirae Asset Capital, Ridgeback Capital, Intel Capital, New Enterprise Associates, 8VC and Lux Capital all pitching in for its latest cash haul.

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Now, it has a major pact with Spark/Roche that will see the biotech nab an undisclosed upfront payment and a mixture of biobucks, all of which could see Senti Bio bring home $645 million-plus.

For its part, Senti will be responsible for designing, building and testing cell type- and disease specific-synthetic promoters for use in certain CNS-, ocular- or liver-directed gene therapies.

Spark, meanwhile, holds an option to exclusively license a defined number of synthetic promoters emerging from the collab for use in developing gene therapy products in specified indications.

Should it hit go on that option, Spark will be responsible for conducting preclinical, clinical and sales work for any gene therapies that use Senti Bio’s licensed synthetic promoters.

“We view gene circuits as a critical component of any advanced cell and gene therapy, regardless of therapeutic area or delivery modality,” said Tim Lu, M.D., Ph.D., CEO of Senti Bio.

“This collaboration with Spark Therapeutics aligns with our goal of enabling truly dynamic therapies that have the ability to discriminate between certain cell types, selectively express various payloads, and respond to diverse disease environments.

“We are extremely impressed by the capabilities and know-how of Spark Therapeutics specifically in the area of gene therapy, and we look forward to bringing our mutual expertise together under this collaboration to harness the power of gene circuits to develop gene therapies that are clinically meaningful to patients.”