Sequoia leads $7M seed round for T-cell player RootPath

RootPath, the brainchild of scientists and bioengineers from MIT, Harvard, Stanford and the like, has raised $7 million in seed funding to develop a T-cell therapy platform for cancer treatment that addresses the shortcomings of current technology.

The Cambridge, Massachusetts-based startup isn’t alone in this endeavor—several other players are working on next-generation therapies that address problems such as speed, specificity and potency. But as crowded as the field is, RootPath’s founders couldn’t find anyone trying to tackle all three of these issues, said RootPath CEO Xi Chen, who was a postdoc fellow at Harvard’s Wyss Institute.

"Even the best immunotherapies today are challenged by the complexities of the immune system, the scope and speed at which cells need to be analyzed and manipulated, and the targeted specificity that can be achieved in different disease settings," Chen said in a statement. "At RootPath we are developing a novel proprietary approach to immunotherapy that will overcome these limitations, and we are proud to have the support of Sequoia China and our other investors as we move towards the clinic."

RootPath launched last year with backing from Nest.Bio Ventures and draws its seed funding from Sequoia China, Volcanics Venture and BV (Baidu Ventures), as well as Nest.Bio.

Details on its technology are slim, but the company has set its sights on bringing its lead asset into human trials in about two years, Chen said.

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“We have our lead program and its technological blueprint nailed down,” he said. “We are in the process of completing development of that technology, which will probably take about three to six months.” Chen expects animal studies to take another six months, and IND-enabling studies to take another six months to a year after that.

RootPath has 15 full-time employees split between its Cambridge headquarters and two R&D sites in China. These sites “take advantage of vast clinical resources in China and it’s part of the reason why we raised money in China,” Chen said. The team is mostly molecular biology and immunology-focused at the moment, but RootPath plans to build up its clinical team over the next year. Its founders include Chen, Yinqing Li, Ely Porter and Le Cong, who worked with Feng Zhang and George Church while at Harvard.