A new cell therapy company is on the block, spearheaded by powerhouse scientific co-founders of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center with years of experience investigating how the immune system is used to treat cancer .
The company’s scientists are co-founders Philip Greenberg, Fred Hutch, Head of Immunology Thomas Smith, a research associate in his lab, and the Hutch associate professor Aude Chapuis, Greenberg previously co-founded cell therapy company Juno Therapeutics, which was acquired by Celgene in 2018 for more than $9 billion.
co-founder like knowles Affini-T serves as CEO and President. He was previously the chief business officer of the gene editing startup Metagenomy, which he co-founded. He was also vice president of venture investments in Leaps by Bayer, the investment arm of the pharma giant, and co-founded Exonics Therapeutics, which was acquired by Vertex Pharmaceuticals for $245 million.
The Affini-T company is developing a cancer treatment using a strategy called T cell receptor (TCR) cancer immunotherapy.
The method involves engineering immune T cells to recognize tumor cells and inject them into the patient. After recognizing tumor cells, the engineered T cells mount a destructive immune response against them.
Cancer cells are recognized by an engineered protein on therapeutic cells called the T cell receptor. Affini-T amplifies the response by adding another engineered protein, called the CD8 co-receptor. The company is also investigating ways to soup up T cells by adding or removing other genes.
The approach holds promise for targeting a broader range of tumor types than more traditional CAR T cell therapies. CAR T cells can target only a limited number of protein targets, which must be on the surface of the cells. They are approved for many types of blood cancer and several companies are researching ways to expand their patient pool.
TCR therapy can target a wide range of proteins, including proteins activated inside the cell.
Affini-T is targeting two abnormal proteins that are found in many tumor cells and promote cancer growth, called KRAS and Mutant P53. The company aims to treat solid tumors.
“Greenberg really knows TCR,” says Marcella Mauss, a cellular physician at Mass General Hospital Cancer Center who is not involved in FINI-T. Told STAT News, GeekWire has reached out to Fini-T for comment.
Other companies, including T-Knife Therapeutics and Lion TCR, are also investigating TCR approaches, whose cell therapy has shown Early clinical signs of efficacy in liver cancer trials.
Affini-T joins a growing list of Seattle area cell therapy operations with links to Juno.
Juno co-founder and Seattle Children’s Research Institute investigator Michael Jensen founded Umoza Biopharma last summer for $210 million. Hans Bishop, former Juno CEO, launched Sanaa Biotechnology, which raised $587 million in its IPO last year; Juno legend Steve Haar serves as CEO. Juno co-founder and Fred Hutch investigator Stan Riedel is scientific co-founder recently public Lyle Immunopharma, which has operations in the Seattle area.
Bristol Myers Squibb inherited Juno’s pipeline when it bought Celgene in 2019. The pharma giant oversaw the approval of Brianzi, a CAR T cell therapy, last year, and is now expanding into the Seattle area.
Investors listed on the Affini-T website are Vida Ventures, Leaps by Bayer, Humboldt Fund, Agent Capital and Alexandria.