|Unum CEO Charles Wilson|
CAR-T is all the rage in oncology circles, but Unum Therapeutics is looking to use its technology to broaden the impact of engineered T cells
CEO: Charles Wilson
Based: Cambridge, MA
Clinical focus: Next-gen CAR-T
The scoop: The company's ultimate success depends on the scientific insights of founder Dario Campana, who provided the design for an antibody-coupled T-cell receptor. This T-cell component binds antibodies to target T cells, and when the reengineered T cells go back into cancer patients, they're designed to spur an amped-up assault on cancer through a combination with antibodies like Herceptin.
What makes Unum Therapeutics Fierce: When you want to jump into an R&D game like oncology, you'll need to be prepared to join a race that involves some of the fastest outfits in biotech. And Unum was built for speed. Since its launch in the fall of 2014, the biotech has added a $65 million crossover round to its $12 million Series A debut, signed on to collaborate with Seattle Genetics ($SGEN) and has started lining up new deals under CEO Charles Wilson, a Novartis ($NVS) vet with global contacts.
At this stage, the CD-19 focus in CAR-T is being hotly pursued by some of the pioneering groups at Novartis, Juno ($JUNO) and Kite ($KITE). So Unum is bypassing the crowd, clipping a reliance on a single protein like CD-19 in favor of a much more universal approach that will open up a much wider array of targets, looking to tackle solid tumors as well as hematological malignancies in ways that the pioneers will have difficulty doing.
Seattle Genetics, a well-known expert in antibody development, paid $25 million up front and promised $615 million more in milestones to sign on as an early partner. The idea is that Unum's tech can be used to make their experimental antibodies much, much more effective in fighting cancer. And that concept has a wide application that will appeal to many more such collaborators.
In the meantime, notes CFO Christiana Stamoulis, "we have a Phase I study evaluating an mRNA ACTR in combination with Rituxan currently ongoing in Singapore. We are also on track for an IND submission for a second Phase I study evaluating a viral ACTR in combination with Rituxan in the US."
Just a few years ago an upstart like this would have been talking about a careful move into the clinic and mapping a clear route to proof-of-concept data, all in good time. But time is not an ample commodity here. Look for Unum to quickly build up new programs in the clinic and possibly file an IPO as well. This kind of upside has been appealing to a wide group of biotech investors.
Investors: New Leaf Venture Partners, Brace Pharma Capital, Cowen Private Investments, Jennison Associates (on behalf of certain clients), Novo A/S, Sabby Management LLC, Sectoral Asset Management, and Wellington Management. Founding investors: Fidelity Biosciences, Atlas Venture and Sanofi-Genzyme BioVentures
Unum hits the gas on next-gen CAR-T tech after banking $65M round
Seattle Genetics conjugates with immuno-oncology upstart Unum in $645M deal
Meet Unum, a new immunotherapy biotech with Fidelity, Atlas and Sanofi in its corner
-- John Carroll (email | Twitter)