Meet Unum, a new immunotherapy biotech with Fidelity, Atlas and Sanofi in its corner

As the promise of harnessing the immune system to fight cancer grabs headlines around the industry, venture stalwarts Fidelity Biosciences and Atlas Venture have teamed up to launch Unum Therapeutics, a Cambridge, MA, startup with a hybrid approach to the field.

Fidelity and Atlas led a $12 million Series A round for the new biotech, joined by Sanofi ($SNY)-Genzyme BioVentures. With the money, Unum--as in e pluribus--will advance its cancer-fighting platform, which pairs a well-established technology with a promising newfangled modality.

Unum's approach involves equipping tumor-specific antibodies with genetically rewired T cells, creating a targeted oncology treatment that marries the efficient, predictable delivery of antibody technology with the cancer-killing power of immunotherapy. Thanks to the versatility of antibody targeting, the resulting treatments can potentially benefit a wider variety of cancers than other T cell therapies, including CAR-Ts and TCRs, which commonly must bind to specific antigens. Furthermore, unlike the treatments under development by Novartis ($NVS), Juno Therapeutics and others, Unum's approach promises easier titration and administration thanks to its use of well-understood antibodies, the company said.

The biotech's new fundraise will pay its way into Phase I with its lead program, called an antibody-coupled T cell receptor (ACTR) therapy, and expects to post early patient data in 2015. In the meantime, the company plans to scout for pharma partners who want to match their well-honed antibodies with its T cell platform.

Unum CEO Charles Wilson

Leading the way is CEO Charles Wilson, a veteran of Novartis, the biggest Big Pharma player in immuno-oncology. He's joined by Scientific Founder Dario Campana, the brains behind Unum's ACTR and the CAR technology used by a host of developers, the company said. At chief scientific officer is Seth Ettenberg, another Novartis oncology veteran. Rounding out Unum's board alongside Wilson are Fidelity's Ben Auspitz and Atlas' Bruce Booth.

"We've created Unum to rapidly develop this universal cell therapy platform and to explore its potential in a number of different cancer types," Wilson said in a statement. "With our Series A funding from Fidelity Biosciences, Atlas Venture, and Sanofi-Genzyme BioVentures, we will drive our lead program into Phase I testing and aim to quickly validate the ACTR approach in the clinic."

Meanwhile, the promise of similar therapies has spurred billions in investment across the industry. Adaptimmune, at work on a TCR platform, raised $104 million in September, a few months removed from signing deal with GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) worth up to $350 million. Juno, another private biotech, has raised more than $300 million in just over a year to support its CAR-T efforts, and Kite Pharma ($KITE) pulled off a $128 million IPO to fund R&D in the same field.

- read the statement
- here's more from Atlas partner Bruce Booth