Senti Biosciences Raises $53 Million from Amgen and Others in Series A Financing
Senti Biosciences, based in South San Francisco, completed a $53 million Series A financing. It was led by New Enterprise Associates. Participates included 8VC, Amgen Ventures, Pear Ventures, Lux Capital, Menlo Ventures, Allen & Company, Nest.Bio, Omega Funds, Goodman Capital, and LifeForce Capital.
“Senti CEO Tim Lu, who is also a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and runs the Synthetic Biology Group, told Business Insider that the startup’s aim is to create ‘circuits’ using synthetic biology that could better program cell therapies—in which human cells are injected into the body—to be safer and more effective when treating conditions including cancer and autoimmune diseases.”
The company is focused on cell therapies, or what might be considered next-generation immuno-oncology approaches using synthetic biology. In CAR-T therapy, for example, a cancer patient’s white blood cells are removed from the body and reengineered to recognize the patient’s unique cancer cells. They are then infused back into the patient, where they attack the cancer cells.
Senti wants to take a more nuanced and complex approach to engineering the immune cells. The company states, “If the genetic programs that underwrite human biological functions are thought of as a code, disease is the equivalent of errors in the execution of the code. Senti Biosciences is designing the future of medicine by programming adaptive therapies to fix these errors. Senti’s technology platform enables them to rapidly design, build, and test various genetic circuits to enhance human cell and gene therapies.”
Lu’s co-founder is Philip Lee, who was head of cell culture systems marketing at Merck KGaA prior to founding Senti. The company is developing several product candidates toward the clinic and has expressed interest in partnerships.
“Adaptive therapies have the potential to transform the treatment of challenging diseases,” Lu said in a statement. “Synthetic biology had advanced significantly over the last several years, and the team we have assembled at Senti is uniquely capable of capitalizing on its progress to turn adaptive therapies into commercial reality. This funding round will accelerate the scaling of our genetic circuit programming platform and its translation into clinical treatments.”
At least part of the company’s goal is to design cells that are able to detect disease severity and release a specific drug dosage in response. Chemical & Engineering News writes, “Senti will use genetic circuits to try to improve cell and gene therapy’s precision and limit toxic side effects. For instance, a genetic circuit could be designed to attract a cell to inflammation caused by an autoimmune disease and then release anti-inflammatory drugs in proportion to the degree of inflammation—rather than giving a person a drug that blocks inflammation all over the body. ‘These features will be really important if we are going to make cell therapies and gene therapies another major wave of medicine,’ Lu says.”
Senti is a resident company of Johnson & Johnson Innovation, JLABS at South San Francisco.
The company isn’t releasing details about its lead programs yet, although it does indicate its first genetic circuits will be a protein for cancer or an autoimmune disease. Lu’s MIT group published a study in the scientific journal Cell in November 2017 that demonstrated how a genetic circuit could cause T-cells to identify and kill cancer cells in mice. In it, the researchers note, “Despite its success in several clinical trials, cancer immunotherapy remains limited by the rarity of targetable tumor-specific antigens, tumor-mediated immune suppression, and toxicity triggered by systemic delivery of potent immunomodulators. Here, we present a proof-of-concept immunomodulatory gene circuit platform that enables tumor-specific expression of immunostimulators, which could potentially overcome these limitations.”