New Cell Therapy Player Makes Public Debut at JPM

Cell Therapy

Affini-T Therapeutics, a new cell therapy company launched by researchers from Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center, made its public debut at the 2022 J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference with a mission to target oncogenic driver mutations to deliver transformative therapies intended to cure patients.

First reported by Geek Wire, Affini-T, based in Boston, is harnessing T cell receptor technology to target cancer. In its presentation, the startup said it combines a validated TCR discovery platform with synthetic biology switches to attack tumor biology at its root cause. The company noted that it will engineer immune cells to target oncogenic driver mutations, like KRAS, the most prevalent oncogenic driver mutation in solid tumors, to “minimize potential tumor escape mechanisms.”

Affini-T takes a multi-pronged approach designed to target oncogenic driver mutations safely and precisely, allowing the company’s treatments to strike at the core of tumor biology. Affini-T said its technology is intended to “outsmart the immunosuppressive tumor microenvironment” to generate a sustained anti-tumoral response.

“We leverage these tools to optimize T-cell functions and rewrite the rules of the solid tumor microenvironment, enabling the potential for sustained clinical outcomes in patients,” the company said.

Although the company is young, Affini-T said its discovery platform had identified multiple TCR clinical candidates. According to its presentation deck, the company has already had multiple assets in development, with one lentiviral program ready to hit the clinic.

The new company is helmed by Jak Knowles, who previously served as Metagenomi’s chief business officer. Before Metagenomi, Knowles was vice president of Venture Investments at Leaps by Bayer. Before joining Bayer, Knowles served as CEO of CytoSen Therapeutics, where he worked to develop Natural Killer cell immunotherapies for oncology indications. In 2016, Knowles launched Exonics Therapeutics, a CRISPR gene-editing company. 

The TCR approach undertaken by Affini-T is also being assessed by other companies, including T Knife Therapeutics. Bay Area-based T Knife is harnessing the capabilities of its proprietary HuTCR transgenic mouse platform to discover and develop a portfolio of TCR-T programs to treat patients with solid tumors. The company’s lead investigational candidate is TK-8001. That asset targets MAGE-A1 positive cancers. T-knife is planning a Phase I/II study in the first part of this year. In November, T Knife reported that preclinical data found that its TCRs “were found to be of higher affinity than human-derived TCRs and resulted in superior anti-tumor activity.”

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