Rubius Therapeutics Raises $100 Million in Crossover Financing
Rubius was conceived, launched and funded by Flagship VentureLabs, Flagship Pioneering’s innovation foundry. It was joined by undisclosed large institutional investors.
The company’s focus is on genetically engineered long-circulating Red-Cell Therapeutics (RCT) products. They are genetically engineered, enucleated red cells and have broad therapeutic applications, including cancer, enzyme replacement therapy and autoimmune disease and tolerance induction.
That’s a fancy way of saying, they’re red blood cells that can be engineered to carry therapeutic proteins. The company’s chief executive officer and president, Torben Straight Nissen, told Business Insider, “They’re basically superblood.”
The initial focus is to develop enzyme replacement therapies. In specific diseases where the body doesn’t manufacture a particular enzyme, the RCTs would be “armed” with that enzyme.
The funds raised will be used to move the company’s portfolio towards clinical proof-of-concept, and to enhance its manufacturing capabilities.
“The addition of this funding further strengthens our foundation and enables us to accelerate the development of our first wave of RCT products that are targeting treatment of enzyme deficiencies, cancer and autoimmune disease,” said Nissen in a statement. “We have assembled an extremely talented team of investors, leadership and advisors, which all share the long-term vision of bringing novel cellular therapies to patients.”
The company’s approach, if viable, would be an answer to the problem with many of the current immuno-oncology therapies. For example, CAR-T therapies are labor-intensive and time-consuming. A cancer patient’s white blood cells are taken from the patient, sent to a facility, engineered to attack the patient’s specific tumors, sent back to the patient’s doctor, where they are reinfused into the patient.
The RCTs are generated from O-negative donors, the so-called “universal donor” blood type. As such, they lack at least some of the surface antigens that can trigger immune reactions. And because red blood cells transport oxygen throughout the body, they reach almost all tissues and organs. In addition, because they have no nucleus, in other words are enucleated, they are generally not recognized by the immune system. Their natural lifespan is about three months.
Rubius’ approach would theoretically create an off-the-shelf version that wouldn’t need to be personalized. Business Insider notes, “To affect more people, the cell therapies would need to go beyond blood cancers. Right now, that’s where most of the big successes have come from. But cell therapies could one day tackle solid tumors and maybe even the rare diseases Rubius is going after, along with autoimmune diseases like Type 1 diabetes.”
Meanwhile, Rubius has quite a bit of cash to work with. “Rubius has become one of the most exciting members of the Flagship family of companies; applying scientifically disruptive insights against unsolved problems to create groundbreaking new therapies,” said Noubar Afeyan, chief executive officer of Flagship Pioneering and co-founder of Rubius, in a statement. “We are excited to further support Rubius in this crossover round as the company continues to advance the next generation of cellular therapies.”