Up and Coming Scientist Gets Funding for CAR-T Startup CARMA Therapeutics

Up and Coming Scientist Gets Funding for CAR-T Startup CARMA Therapeutics June 14, 2017
By Mark Terry, BioSpace.com Breaking News Staff

Philadelphia-based CARMA Therapeutics announced it has closed an initial financing for an undisclosed amount. The round was co-led by AbbVie Ventures and HealthCap. Participants included Grazia Equity and IP Group.

The name of the company is a play on words, as the company is focused on chimeric antigen receptors (CAR) added to T-cells, or CAR-T therapies. Add in MA for macrophages, which is the company’s differentiation in the CAR-T space, and you get CARMA.

“Macrophages can engulf and kill cells through the process of phagocytosis,” said co-founder Michael Klichinsky, in a statement. “By genetically engineering these cells with CARs, we can specifically direct them to tumor cells, such as ovarian cancer cells. Our pre-clinical data support our hypothesis and show targeted, selective and effective killing of solid tumor cells by CARMA. In addition, we expect that CAR macrophages will prime a T cell immune response against the tumor.”

The company is based on the work of Saar Gill, an assistant professor of Hematology Oncology in the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. Gill is a co-founder of CARMA. “We hypothesized early on that focusing on different effector cells, other than T cells, might be more effective in trying to tackle solid tumors, which has been a challenge for T cell therapies,” Gill said in a statement. “The innate biology drove us to try macrophages.”

John Carroll, writing for Endpoints News, says, “CAR-T’s first and best application has been centered on liquid tumors, with some major obstacles to overcome in expanding into solid tumors. Now Gill has some unspecified support in a new round led by AbbVie Ventures and HealthCap with participation by Grazia Equity and IP Group.”

“We are extremely pleased with the incubation investment syndicate, led by an excellent balance of high profile investors: AbbVie Ventures, the strategic venture investing arm of AbbVie and one of the most active early-stage corporate venture groups in biotech, and HealthCap, one of the largest life sciences investors in Europe with deep experience in oncology therapeutics,” said Dora Mitchell, director of the Upstart program at PCI Ventures, a division of the Penn Center for Innovation (PCI), in a statement. “The participation of early-stage investor IP Group Inc. continues its strong commercialization partnership with the Penn Upstart program, and Grazia Equity brings their experience in working with companies from their initiation stages all the way to IPO.”

One of the top priorities of the company’s board of directors is to recruit a chief executive officer. The company is currently being led by its executive chairman, Bruce Peacock. Peacock was the chief financial and business officer of Ophthotech from August 2013 to September 2014, and continues to serve as the chief business officer. He has been a Venture Partner at SV Life Science Advisers since 2006. He served as the co-chairman of the board of Alba Therapeutics since February 2011, and as its chief executive officer since April 2008. He was also involved with Centocor and Cephalon, where he was chief financial officer and chief operations officer, respectively.

The funds raised will be used to advance development of its first product, CARMA-0508.

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