Taking a Page from Nature’s Playbook, Chimera Wins Coveted BRACE Award

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Chimera Bioengineering is having a big week. The San Francisco-based biotherapeutics company announced Thursday that it has won the Asian Fund for Cancer Research (AFCR) 2021 Bridging Research from Academic to Cancer Entrepreneurship (BRACE) award venture competition. Chimera snagged the award not only for its innovative CAR-T cell therapy platform that targets solid tumors but also for its extensive research relevant to China, where there is a high need for treatments.

Chimera’s research comes largely from its GOLD platform, a technology that leverages native T cell RNA-based gene regulation circuits to control transgenic payload production by chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T cells. Using GOLD, Chimera is engineering CAR-T cell therapies that target and weaken tumor microenvironments, making the medicinal payload of the CAR-T cells more powerful.

The award isn’t the company’s only exciting news. Chimera also announced the appointment of a new CEO: Vlad Hogenhuis, M.D. Hogenhuis has previous experience as chief operating officer at Ultragenyx Pharmaceuticals and was also head of specialty pharma and oncology at GlaxoSmithKline.

“There’s a tremendous amount of excitement among the company at winning this award,” Hogenhuis told BioSpace in an interview. “We’ve worked for years to take a page out of nature’s handbook to harness T-cell regulation. We’re using that T-cell technology against solid tumors. Typically, CAR-T therapies work much better in liquid tumors, so we’re really overcoming a huge barrier by targeting solid tumors such as prostate cancer, pancreatic cancer and triple-negative breast cancer. Our technology delivers a payload, conditionally activates it in the presence of a tumor, and turns it off in other areas.”

The award is much more than just recognition, though. It comes with $7.5 million in funds for Chimera, $500,000 of which is from the AFCR. Additional new funding is being infused from Viking Global Investors and other new investors. 

At the competition, investors, advisors and industry professionals take notice of top performers, leading to new connections and support. The competition, a first-of-its-kind program for early-stage oncology technology companies focused on Asian-prevalent cancers, enables companies to receive feedback from judges who are leading oncology researchers, as well as other experts who can help them refine their programs.

The award and its associated advantages should open doors for Chimera to move toward investigative new drug (IND)-enabling studies to bring products to market. Chimera’s lead product candidate, a conditionally armed CAR-T cell therapy called CBIO-007, possesses a robust set of preclinical data showing its potential to treat pancreatic, prostate and triple-negative breast cancers. Using GOLD’s tumor microenvironment programming, CBIO-007 selectively targets tumor cells and leaves other tissues alone. This minimizes toxicity and negative side effects of the treatment. The funding is expected to push CBIO-007 toward IND-enabling studies in four solid tumor models.

Chimera’s achievements would be impressive anywhere, but the BRACE award was given for its focus on cancers commonly found in Asian populations.

“Like the potentially transformative CAR-T technology being pursued by Chimera, AFCR’s BRACE Award Venture Competition is designed to accelerate the commercialization of innovative cancer research discoveries for cancer patients, in Asia and worldwide,” said Sujuan Ba, Ph.D., CEO and founder of AFCR.

“Of course, we want to care for patients all over the world, but we are especially happy to provide solutions for Asian patients,” Hogenhuis said. “Incidence of lung cancer is particularly high in China for a host of factors, and it’s quickly becoming one of the largest oncology markets in the world. We recognize the opportunity to treat Asian patients, and the fact that the AFCR focuses on Asian markets lines up well with Chimera’s mission to treat patients no matter where they are, especially if there hasn’t been much research done on a certain population who really need it.”

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