Pfizer-Backed DEM Bio Launches to Leverage CRISPR in Immuno-Oncology

DEM BioPharma has $70 million to get started on novel immunotherapeutics to treat cancer following a successful financing round.

DEM BioPharma, backed by an impressive list of investors, debuted Thursday with $70 million that will assist in its efforts to treat cancer with an approach that leverages CRISPR screening and macrophage biology in immuno-oncology.

The Cambridge, MA-based company is pioneering a new range of immunotherapeutics that targets EM (eat me) and DEM (don’t eat me) signals on cancer cells and macrophages.

The goal is to create treatments that go beyond the signals current investigational therapies are targeting using DEM Bio’s proprietary CHoMP platform. CHoMP stands for Co-culture with Human Myeloid Phagocytes, which can identify unexplored signals in an unbiased way through intra-cellular CRISPR screening.

The $70 million from Longwood Fund, Alta Partners and other supporting firms such as Astellas Venture Management, Insight Partners, Pfizer Ventures, UTokyo Innovation, Alexandria Venture Investments and Emerson Collective, is just the start, according to newly appointed executive chairman Jan Skarva.

“This financing from an exceptional group of investors positions us to execute on our ambitious plans to develop the next generation of macrophage checkpoint inhibitors that may revolutionize how we treat cancer,” commented Skvarva, the former chief executive of Trillium Therapeutics, which was acquired last year by Pfizer.

DEM Bio’s Board of Directors also gains a cadre of talented executives from the investing firms, including Longwood Fund Founding Partner Christoph Westphal, M.D., Ph.D., Alta Partners Managing Partner Dan Janney, Insight Partners Managing Director Dylan Morris, Pfizer Ventures Principal Marie-Claire Peakman, Ph.D. and Astellas Venture Management investment director Hiro Kimura, Ph.D.

DEM Bio has also set up a Scientific Advisory Board made up of the best minds in the CRISPR high-throughput screening, cancer biology, immune phagocytes and therapeutic development fields.

“The currently known DEM and EM pathways were discovered serendipitously,” Michael Bassik, Ph.D., co-founder of DEM Bio said. “Similar to other areas of immunotherapy, there are likely other signals that are more potent and offer better therapeutic targets, but no one has yet taken a systematic approach to identifying those pathways.”

So far, the CHoMP platform’s preclinical activities have targeted APMAP-enhanced tumor cell phagocytosis in different types of cancer cells and animal models.

“The encouraging initial data on this pathway has helped validate our differentiated approach to identifying novel, potent DEM/EM signals,” David Donabedian, DEM Bio’s co-founder and start-up CEO noted. “The company plans to use proceeds from this financing to further develop our platform and to advance our portfolio of novel targets towards therapeutic development in oncology.”