Singapore’s Tessa raises $80M for T cell therapy push

Funds will be used to expand the biotech's clinical pipeline.

Emerging immuno-oncology player Tessa Therapeutics has raised $80 million in a financing round that will be used to usher its virus-specific T cell (VST) immunotherapies through clinical trials.

The company’s VST pipeline is currently headed by its TT10 VST therapy that targets tumors expressing Epstein-Barr virus proteins in a phase 3 trial for nasopharyngeal cancer, and a second candidate TT12 in phase 1 aimed at cervical and oropharyngeal cancers caused by human papillomavirus.

The VST approach has some similarities with autologous CAR-T therapies, and involves harvesting white blood cells from peripheral blood, stimulating them to proliferate and respond to tumor cells expressing viral antigens, and then infusing the cells back into the patient in the hope of stimulating an immune response.

Tessa says that its technology gives VSTs the ability to “infiltrate and survive in solid tumors long enough to attack and destroy them from within, a key differentiator to other cell therapies.”

In the TT10 trial, the VST is being given on top of standard chemotherapy as a first-line treatment for advanced nasopharyngeal cancer patients and compared to chemotherapy given alone. The TT12 trial is pairing the cell therapy with Bristol-Myers Squibb’s checkpoint inhibitor Opdivo (nivolumab).

The new funding will help advance those two projects but also allow Tessa to bring forward new VST candidates into trials, according to the firm’s co-founder and CEO Andrew Khoo. Right now, Tessa has two preclinical projects on the go, namely TT14 for GPC3-positive solid tumors and TT16 for HER2-positive head and neck cancer.

Khoo said the financing—which was led by Singapore investment company Temasek and joined by EDBI, Karst Peak Capital, Heliconia, Heritas, and others— “validates our work and continued progress in the development of Tessa's [VST] platform technology and clinical pipeline.”

The fundraising rounds off a busy year for Tessa, punctuated by its acquisition of fellow Singaporean biotech Euchloe Bio in March to add a portfolio of checkpoint inhibitor candidates targeting PD-1, PD-L1, CTLA-4, TIM-3 and LAG-3, as well as tie-ups with oncolytic virus specialist Vyriad and the Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy.