Tmunity dials series A round up to $135M to fuel progress of T-cell immunotherapy pipeline

Beth Seidenberg, the Kleiner Perkins general partner behind the Tmunity investment. (Kleiner Perkins)

Tmunity has added $35 million to its series A round, bringing its total haul up to $135 million. The cash sets ex-Novartis executive Usman “Oz” Azam up to build out the infrastructure Tmunity needs to hustle its pipeline of T cell-based immunotherapies through clinical development.

Philadelphia-based Tmunity made a splash in January when it emerged with $100 million and the support of key players in the story of Novartis’ pioneering CAR-T therapy Kymriah. Azam took up the CEO role at Tmunity after leaving Novartis, reuniting him with Carl June, M.D., and the University of Pennsylvania team that set Kymriah on the path to its historic approval.

The big series A round equipped Tmunity to set up the business and operational structure it takes to develop, produce and commercialize cell therapies. Now, the interest of storied West Coast VC shop Kleiner Perkins has given Tmunity even more money to play with.

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Kleiner Perkins is best known for investing in tech companies including Amazon, Google and Twitter. But the group has a sideline in life sciences that now boasts a sizable portfolio and some successes, including Flexus Biosciences. Bristol-Myers Squibb paid $800 million upfront to acquire Flexus and its then-preclinical IDO1 inhibitor F001287 in 2015.

Buoyed by the backing of Kleiner Perkins, Gilead, Ping An Ventures, the Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy and other investors, Tmunity plans to head far deeper into development than Flexus ever did. June’s team is already running trials of a CAR-T and a CRISPR-edited T-cell receptor therapy.

RELATED: Tmunity nabs $100M for next-gen T-cell immunotherapies

These programs build on the experience Penn researchers gained working on first-generation T cell therapies and look to go beyond them, notably by targeting prostate cancer and other solid tumors. That combination of validation, albeit in an adjacent field, and opportunity prompted Kleiner Perkins to get on board.

“The field has been validated with approved therapies for B cell malignancies and the goal is to apply the technology and therapy to the treatment of solid tumors such as prostate, pancreatic, ovarian and other cancers that remain some of the toughest to cure,” Beth Seidenberg, M.D., general partner at Kleiner Perkins, said in a statement. 

With the Penn group handling early trials, Tmunity is focused on putting together all the supporting infrastructure needed to manage the logistically challenging tasks of developing and manufacturing T cell therapies. The need to carry out those tasks motivated the first close of the series A round. And the $35 million top-up is no different.