AbbVie Leads $53 Million Funding Round for startup Carisma Therapeutics


AbbVie Ventures, the investment arm of Illinois-based AbbVie, led a $53 million Series A funding round for Carisma Therapeutics and its immunotherapy CAR-Macrophage platform that leverages advances in macrophage biology, chimeric antigen receptor engineering and adoptive cellular therapy for the treatment of human disease.

Philadelphia-based Carisma, which was formerly known as CARMA (chimeric antigen receptor macrophages) Therapeutics, is developing its programs to target solid tumors. The company said its proprietary CAR-Macrophage platform is the first technology to combine antigen recognition with the effector function of macrophages. The company said its dual mechanism of action “includes the ability to directly kill targeted cells and the ability to leverage antigen-presenting cell biology to mount an adaptive immune response.” As it stands now, the company’s work has been in preclinical stages. This morning Carisma said it intends to initiate clinical trials in 2019 with a target of solid tumors – although which tumor types were not disclosed. Carisma said that other potential applications of its program include the disruption of protein aggregates in multiple disease states.

"Carisma's programs combine the unique effector function of macrophages with advances in CAR technology to create a revolutionary approach to adoptive cellular therapy," Chief Executive Officer Steven Kelly said in a statement. "We are thrilled about the composition of our financing syndicate, which brings varied and deep experience in cell and gene therapy to further support our research and development efforts."

BioSpace profiled Carisma earlier this year when it was still known as CARMA. Company co-founder Michael Klichinsky described the company’s approach as this: “By genetically engineering these cells with CARs, we can specifically direct them to tumor cells, such as ovarian cancer cells. Our preclinical data support our hypothesis and show targeted, selective and effective killing of solid tumor cells by CARMA. In addition, we expect the CAR macrophages will prime a T-cell immune response against the tumor.”

In addition to AbbVie Ventures, the $53 million financing round included HealthCap, IP Group, Penn Medicine and Grazia Equity. New investors in the company include Wellington Partners, TPG Biotech, MRL Ventures Fund and Agent Capital.

AbbVie has been on a roll lately as it partners with companies to develop solid tumor treatments. On Monday the company announced a collaboration with California-based Calibr to develop next-generation CAR-T treatments for solid tumors.

Carisma’s platform is based on technology from the Center for Cellular Immunotherapies at the University of Pennsylvania. It was from the UPENN laboratory of Carisma cofounder Saar Gill, assistant professor of Hematology Oncology in the Perelman School of Medicine.

In addition to Kelly, Carisma’s leadership team includes Dora Mitchell, who will head operations, and Daniel Cushing, who will oversee development. The company is currently recruiting a chief scientific officer and chief medical officer.

Its board of directors will include CEO Kelly; Margarita Chavez, the managing director of AbbVie Ventures; Jacob Gunterberg, a partner of HealthCap; Regina Hodits, managing partner of Wellington Partners; Eran Nadav, senior advisor of TPG Biotech; Althea Stillman, associate director at IP Group Inc.; and Bruce Peacock, the chairman of the board.

Carisma’s scientific advisory board includes company co-founders Gill and Klichinsky, as well as Carl H. June, Lisa M. Coussens, Reinhard Andreesen and S. Jane Flint.

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