RootPath Receives $7 Million Seed Funding for Next-Gen Immuno-Oncology

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RootPath, headquartered in Cambridge, Massachusetts, announced a $7 million seed funding round. The financing was led by Sequoia China. Volcanics Venture, BV (Baidu Ventures) and Nest.Bio Ventures participated.

The company launched last year with venture capital and incubation firm Nest.Bio. The company expects to use the funds to advance its immuno-oncology programs, as well as develop data in animal models.

The company focuses on synthetic biology, gene editing and single-cell sequencing technologies. Its founders are Xi Chen, Le Cong, Yinqing Li, Ely Porter and Cheryl Cui. Currently, Chen is the chief executive officer and Porter is the lead scientist. Cong is an assistant professor at Stanford University, School of Medicine. Cong played a significant role in the Feng Zhang’s laboratory at the Broad Institute. Zhang is one of the top players involved in the invention and discovery (and litigation) of CRISPR gene editing technology. Li is an assistant professor at Tsinghua University School of Pharmaceutical Sciences.

The company’s website indicates it is “developing technologies that enable improved strength of the immune system, speed of analysis and manipulation of cells and specificity toward disease.”

“Even the best immunotherapies today are challenged by the complexities of the immune system, the scope and speed at which cells need to be analyzed and manipulated, and the targeted specificity that can be achieved in different disease settings,” Chen said in a statement. “At RootPath we are developing a novel proprietary approach to immunotherapy that will overcome these limitations, and we are proud to have the support of Sequoia China and our other investors as we move towards the clinic.”

Most immune-based therapies have a problem distinguishing between disease-causing immune cells, bystander immune cells, and immune cells that fight disease. This can result in toxic side effects and ineffective therapies. Part of RootPath’s approach is a deeper understanding of the sequences of individual immune cell receptors, their specific functions, and understanding how the various types of immune cells behave at any given time. RootPath uses single-cell analysis and manipulation at a high-throughput level while still keeping single-cell resolution.

“We are just at the start of the immunotherapy era,” said Cyber Cao, managing director of Sequoia China, in a statement. “In order to progress to the next stage, we need to improve our ability to dissect and engineer the immune system at a single-cell level. RootPath’s approach is geared to solving that problem, and we are proud to be leading this investment.”

RootPath doesn’t give a lot of detail about how they expect to approach the subject. In that respect, it appears to be still operating in semi-stealth mode. A clue might be found in the founders’ mix of education and experience, which ranges from Chen’s biochemistry background, Cong’s pedigree as a co-inventor of various CRISPR-Cas9-related technologies and single-cell technologies, and Li’s combination of molecular biology and bioinformatics focused on CRISPR and single-cell analysis. His Ph.D. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is in electrical engineering and computer science. Porter’s expertise is in RNA biochemistry, engineering and analysis. Cui’s PhD from MIT was in Medical Engineering and is focused on synthetic biology.

This mix suggests, as does the company’s website, that the key to the company’s approach will be some sort of high-throughput screening and sorting technology and algorithms to help differentiate specific immune cells used in the immuno-oncology setting.

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