With $52 Million Series A, Appia Bio Anticipates a Bright Future in Cell Therapy
Appia co-founder and chief executive officer, JJ Kang/Photo Courtesy of Appia Bio
Backed by $52 million in Series A financing led by 8VC and named after a feat of engineering in ancient Rome, Appia Bio jumped into the cell therapy fray this morning with a promising scalable technology platform.
“The company is named after the Aqua Appia, which is the first Roman aqueduct. It was kind of a feat of engineering and it brought water to a lot more people, and that thematically connects well. We want to engineer these cells and provide a broader reach for cell therapy through allogeneic off-the-shelf,” said Appia co-founder and chief executive officer, JJ Kang, Ph.D.
Appia is developing engineered allogeneic cell therapies from hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs) for cancer patients. Its ACUA platform utilizes the biology of lymphocyte development with CAR and TCR gene engineering to produce CAR-engineered invariant natural killer T (CAR-iNKT) cells from HSCs.
The Los Angeles-based biotech is spun out of the pioneering work of Lili Yang, Ph.D., an associate professor at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).
In addition to the $52 million votes of confidence provided by 8VC, Two Sigma Ventures, and seed investors, Sherpa Healthcare Partners and Freeflow Ventures, Appia’s newly announced scientific board is packed to the brim with wisdom.
Appia is co-founded by Nobel laureate winner and former president of the California Institute of Technology, Dr. David Baltimore. Edmund Kim, Ph.D., former VP of corporate development at Kite Pharma (Gilead Sciences), comes on board as chief operating officer, while Jeff Wiezorek, MD, former head of cell therapy development at Kite and a previous student of Baltimore’s, joins as chief medical officer.
“One of those guys, Jeff, has been a post-doc with me, so he’s well-trained,” quipped Baltimore.
In an exploding and crowded field, how does Appia differentiate itself?
“I think in being an off-the-shelf allogeneic cell, charged and ready to go,” said Baltimore. “The secret here is Lili Yang, who figured out how to grow very large numbers of iNKT cells from a single harvest of hematopoietic stem cells. So we can make large numbers of cells to treat many multiples of patients from a single donor source. And we can prepare that ahead of time. So that means that no matter what their own HLA [human leukocyte antigen] is, these cells can be used therapeutically.”
AQUA is also able to leverage these iNKT cells in a scaleable manner.
“The big step forward with this technology is that starting from these hematopoietic stem cells, we can drive to the these invariant NKT cells that are actually naturally quite rare. Through this platform, we can produce a lot of these cells and do so in a scaleable, fully ex vivo manner that gives us a path forward for industry use for commercialization,” said Kang.
Appia is now ready to power its extensive research forward into the clinic.
“We have space now and we have money, we have people,” said Baltimore. “We’re in the process of the technology transfer. The second step is to show that it will work in animal systems. Lili has done that, but we want to be able to show that we can do that. Then is the big step: Preparing ourselves for initial clinical trials. That will be a little ways down the road, but with the investments that we have now, we should be in a position to carry that step through.”