Capstan Therapeutics Launches with $165M for Precise in Vivo Cell Engineering

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Backed by industry giants, Capstan Therapeutics launched Wednesday with $165 million to combine the potency of cell therapy with the precision of genetic medicines against various difficult-to-treat diseases.

Capstan’s core technology is in vivo cell engineering. By injecting lipid nanoparticles targeted to immune cells, the biotech is looking to deliver a piece of mRNA that can induce the transformation of T lymphocytes into transient therapeutic CAR T cells inside the body. This approach can be applied to many therapeutic areas, such as cancer, blood disorders and autoimmune diseases.

The scientific basis for Capstan’s platform was first characterized in a study published in Science in January. The study tested the technology in mice with cardiac fibrosis--the scarring of heart tissue.

The research team, which included several Capstan founders, encased engineered mRNA in lipid nanoparticles designed to seek out the CD5 surface protein of T cells.

When injected in mice models, they found that these complexes could reprogram T lymphocytes into CAR T cells targeting the FAP protein, a fibrosis-related target. Cardiac function was eventually restored in the treated mice.

Capstan plans to use the proceeds from Wednesday’s launch to further develop this platform and its three modules: the targeted lipid nanoparticles, the targeting molecules to ensure specificity and the disease-related mRNA payload. 

The company’s goal is to maximize the clinical promise of cell therapies by accomplishing the precise and in vivo engineering of cells.

Capstan is prioritizing diseases ripe for transforming the standard of care in terms of therapeutic targets. Initially, the company will leverage its already-demonstrated approach of producing therapeutic CAR T cells in vivo. Its goal is to make such treatments administrable in the outpatient setting. 

Monogenic blood disorders are also in the company’s sights.

"We are conducting research across oncology, autoimmune disorders, fibrosis, as well as monogenic blood disorders and optimizing the components of our platform with the goal of nominating lead candidates and progressing towards IND-enabling activities," Laura Shawver, president and CEO of Capstan, told BioSpace.

Backed by Industry and Scientific Heavy-Hitters

The promise of Capstan’s platform has earned it the support of several industry giants. The young company’s initial funding includes $102 million from a recently closed Series A financing round led by Pfizer Ventures. Leaps by Bayer, Eli Lilly and Company and Bristol Myers Squibb, among other investors, also participated.

The remaining $63 million came from Capstan’s seed funding, led by Novartis Venture Fund and Orbi Med.

Aside from industry backers, Capstan is also built on a solid scientific foundation. Among the company’s founders are Jonathan Epstein, M.D. and Haig Aghajanian, Ph.D., both experts in preclinical translation, as well as Carl June M.D. and Bruce Levine, Ph.D., leading figures in cell engineering.

Lending Capstan with their mRNA and lipid nanoparticle expertise are Drew Weissman, M.D., Ph.D. and Hamideh Parhiz, Pharm.D., Ph.D., while Ellen Puré, Ph.D. and Steven Albelda, M.D. provided insight on immunology and fibrosis. Helming the company is Laura Shawver, Ph.D., who will serve as its president and chief executive officer. Shawver has more than 20 years of executive leadership experience.

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