Sonoma Bio debuts with $40M to push Treg treatments for autoimmune, neuro diseases

Human T cell
Sonoma counts ARCH Venture Partners, Milky Way Ventures, 8VC and Lyell Immunopharma among its series A backers. (National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases)

Sonoma Biotherapeutics launched with a mission to create regulatory T-cell treatments for autoimmune and neurodegenerative diseases, $40 million in series A financing and renowned immunologist, Jeffrey Bluestone, Ph.D., at its helm. 

Bluestone lands at Sonoma after leading the Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy as its president and CEO. He’s a longtime immunologist credited with the discovery of the function of CTLA-4, a major target for cancer immunotherapies such as Bristol-Myers Squibb’s Yervoy. Sonoma’s founders include other prominent scientists in the regulatory T-cell (or Treg) field, including Qizhi Tang, Ph.D., of the University of California, San Francisco; Alexander Rudensky, Ph.D., of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute; and Fred Ramsdell, Ph.D., who will serve as the company’s chief scientific officer. 

Sonoma, which is based in South San Francisco and Seattle, will develop treatments for people who can’t control their autoimmune or degenerative diseases with current drugs. The hope is that Treg therapy could restore self-tolerance in the body by blocking inflammatory responses in diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease and multiple sclerosis as well as in those like amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and Alzheimer’s. 

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“Tregs have a clear role in many of these conditions. These cells' natural ability to migrate to inflamed tissues and control harmful immune responses make them ideal for treating a range of conditions,” the company said in a statement. What’s more, Treg cells can be engineered to hit specific disease-causing antigens, which can reduce the side effects of current drugs, such as systemic immunosuppressants. 

"With this team and our assembled expertise and technologies, we are in an ideal position to move adoptive cell therapy beyond cancer, to establish safe, effective and long-lasting treatments for a range of conditions where current drugs and biologics are simply not good enough," Bluestone said in a statement. "As the immune system's master regulators of protecting the body against self-destruction, Treg cell therapy is perhaps the ideal means to shut down unwanted immune reactions and provide meaningful treatment for patients." 

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Sonoma counts ARCH Venture Partners, Milky Way Ventures, 8VC and Lyell Immunopharma among its series A backers. It has struck a partnership with Lyell to share technology and knowledge to boost the durability, stability and specificity of cell therapies in their areas of interest. Last October, Lyell teamed up with GlaxoSmithKline to apply its technology to the Big Pharma’s cell therapy stable to boost the “fitness” of T cells and improve their effectiveness in solid tumors.