George Church-Backed Thymmune Launches to Target Overlooked Organ

Stan Wang_Thymmune Therapeutics

Stan Wang, M.D., Ph.D., founder and CEO, Thymmune Therapeutics/company courtesy

Famed geneticist George Church has spun out another company – this one developing cell therapies that regenerate the thymus, thereby restoring and improving immune function.

Thymmune Therapeutics debuted Wednesday with $7 million in seed financing.

The Mass.-located start-up is backed by Boston-based venture capital firm Pillar VC, which led the financing round. Several other institutional and personal investors participated, including the New York Blood Center’s NYBC Ventures, former Alnylam CEO John Maraganore and Church. 

Founded in 2019, Thymmune is built on decades of research on the thymus gland, Stan Wang, M.D., Ph.D., founder and CEO, said in a statement. Wang was a member of Church’s lab at the Harvard Medical School from 2016 to 2018.

"Historically, the thymus was thought to be a vestigial organ but recent decades of research have shown it to be critical in proper immune function," Wang told BioSpace. 

Thymmune's goal is to combine this growing body of thymus knowledge with the recent advancements in cell therapies. 

Joining Wang at Thymmune’s masthead is chief scientific officer Bing Lim, M.D., Ph.D., who has held leadership positions at Sana Biotechnology, Merck and Singapore’s A*STAR. The start-up has six other employees fulfilling various scientific research functions.

In 2021, Thymmune established its base of operations in Kendall Square in Cambridge. The same year, it won five Golden Tickets – a record in the Boston area – from big sponsors: Pfizer, Novo Nordisk, LG Chem Life Sciences, Boehringer Ingelheim and Astellas. Tickets are awarded to promising early-stage life-sciences start-ups.

Targeting the Thymus

The thymus gland is a small organ tucked beneath the breastbone. Its primary function is to produce T cells, which help the body ward off infections and diseases and mount an immune response to vaccines. The thymus grows weaker with age and is less capable of producing naïve T cells, leading to immune dysfunction and various chronic conditions.

Thymmune aims to reverse this process by combining machine learning with cellular engineering to mass produce thymic cells derived from induced pluripotent stem cells. With this approach, the start-up intends to create off-the-shelf cell therapies that can restore immune function minimally invasively.

“Our approach has the potential to transform immunology by developing novel therapies for patients with a range of immune system disorders,” Wang said in a prepared statement.

The small team will first test their platform against athymia, a rare and congenital immune disorder wherein an infant is born without a thymus. Babies with athymia cannot produce T cells and are at a high risk of infection. Left untreated, athymic infants typically die by age two or three.

The company is also looking at testing its platform to treat several autoimmune diseases and address organ transplant tolerance, Wang told BioSpace.

In the future, Thomas de Vlaam, Principal, Pillar VC, said Thymmune’s platform could also boost immune function and address the biology of aging.

Thymmune joins the cadre of biotech start-ups that have spun out from Church’s lab at Harvard. This includes de-extinction company Colossal Biosciences, protein barcoding start-up Manifold Bio and aging-focused firm Rejuvenate Bio.

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