SonoThera Bags $60M for Ultrasound-Guided, Non-Viral Gene Therapy
South San Francisco, California-based start-up SonoThera closed its Series A round of financing Monday, counting $60.75 million in earnings to advance its ultrasound-guided, non-viral gene therapy platform.
The funding round was led by ARCH Venture Partners. SonoThera also counts several industry heavy-hitters among its supporters, including Johnson & Johnson Innovation – JJDC, Inc., Illumina Ventures and Eli Lilly & Company. Other funders included Medical Excellence Capital, Alexandria Venture Investments and Vertex Ventures HC.
According to Kenneth Greenberg, Ph.D., chief executive officer and co-founder of SonoThera, the company will channel these investments into preclinical programs and early manufacturing activities. In parallel, SonoThera will expand its talent pool.
Whereas traditional approaches use viral vectors to deliver a therapeutic gene, SonoThera's team houses its payload in a microbubble, which they then inject into the bloodstream. Using an FDA-cleared ultrasound device and a proprietary acoustic profile, the microbubble can be guided to the target site and ushered into the cell through a transient pore in the membrane.
This approach allows SonoThera to avoid the associated immunogenicity and high costs of using viral vectors while maintaining its high efficiency and target specificity. The microbubbles can accommodate a diverse range of genetic payloads while having a higher cargo capacity.
Greenberg told BioSpace that SonoThera is currently developing its gene therapy platform with a focus on “specific organ systems, rather than specific diseases.”
“If we can unlock delivery to different organs, that will open up the potential to treat a wide range of disease states,” he said. “If the platform development and preclinical work continue to be successful, we’re targeting to initiate Phase I clinical trials in 2025.”
In a statement, Steven Gillis, Ph.D., of ARCH Venture Partners, said that SonoThera’s “non-invasive, nonviral therapies” could represent the next generation of genetic medicines and “would significantly change the genetic treatment paradigm” for many different diseases.
A Slowdown in Biofunding
SonoThera’s Monday haul comes amid a decline in funding across biopharma. Driven largely by vaccine innovation, 2021 saw record-breaking figures in venture capital, jumping some 70% from the year before and eclipsing the combined funding from 2019 and 2020.
This year, however, funding across the industry had dropped by 38.1% in June, according to an analysis by Crunchbase News. Funders have pumped some $4 billion per month into the biotech space, but monthly support dropped to around $3.2 billion this year.
Still, aside from SonoThera, many other biotechs have managed to clinch cash, particularly in Genetown, one of the industry’s most dynamic hotspots. In June, Upstream Bio launched with $200 million in backing to advance a monoclonal antibody in development against severe asthma. Two months later, in August, IDRx scored $122 million in Series A funding and partnership earnings to target oncogenic mutations.
Last month, Acrivon became the 20th company to go public this year with a $99 million IPO offering. This is compared to more than 100 biopharma companies that went public in 2021.