Torque Pops Out of Stealth Mode With $25M and Rhythm Pharma Founder at Its Helm

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Torque came out of stealth mode with a $25 million Series A financing. The financing was by Flagship Pioneering.

Torque is an immuno-oncology company that is developing what it calls Deep Primed cell therapies. Deep Primed therapies are designed to activate only the T-cells that target the tumor. Many of the immunomodulatory drugs that are designed to activate and protect T-cells often cause lethal toxicity by also activating other immune cells throughout the body. Torque’s approach anchors the immunomodulators to the surface of the immune cell so it acts locally in the tumor microenvironment.

The company is applying this technology across all immune cell therapeutic classes, including CAR-T cells, TCR therapeutics, NK cells, and Tumor-Associated Antigen (TAA)-specific T cells.

“The tumor microenvironment shuts down immune cells, protecting tumors from their attack,” said Doug Cole, lead director of Torque and managing partner of Flagship Pioneering, in a statement. “Torque is engineering immune cells with the tools to fight back to overcome this immunosuppression. This directed, precisely controlled approach goes far beyond what can be achieved using either gene editing or genetic engineering alone.”

Torque also announced that Bart Henderson will be the company’s chief executive officer. Henderson is one of the company’s co-founders. He was most recently the founder and president of Rhythm Pharmaceuticals. Before Rhythm, he was a founding employee of Radius Health.

The company also appointed Ulrik Nielsen as president and founder chairman of the board. Nielsen is a co-founder of Torque. Prior to Torque, he was a founder and chief scientific officer of Merrimack, and chief executive officer of Silver Creek Pharmaceuticals, a majority-owned subsidiary of Merrimack.

The company’s executive leadership, besides Henderson and Nielsen, includes Thomas Lars Andresen, a co-founder and head of Discovery and Becker Hewes, as chief medical officer.

“By arming immune cells to function robustly deep in the tumor microenvironment, this approach has the potential to create a new class of cellular immunotherapeutics, substantially expanding the efficacy of conventional cell-based methods,” said Darrell Irvine, co-founder of Torque, professor of Materials Science & Engineering and Biological Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and an investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, in a statement. “Torque’s approach has the potential to significantly expand the proportion of patients that respond to cellular immunotherapy and to take us closer to curing cancer, rather than just slowing its progression.”

Torque was established in 2015. It currently has 30 employees and a base in Kendall Square in Cambridge.

The company’s lead product is Deep IL-15, which it plans to push into the clinic in 2018 for blood cancers and solid tumors. The company also has at least three other product candidates, all in lead optimization. They are Deep TLR/STING for solid tumors, Deep IL-12 for solid tumors, and a Deep Checkpoint Inhibitor for solid and hematologic tumors.

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