Bayer among financial backers of startup Century Therapeutics’ cell-based immunotherapy platform
Bayer has invested $215 million in Century Therapeutics, a biotech startup looking to break into the oncology cell therapy market with a platform based on allogeneic induced pluripotent stem cells.
Century Therapeutics was created by the investment firm Versant Ventures and has secured $250 million in total initial funding. The firm has partnered with Fujifilm Cellular Dynamics (FCDI) to license the induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSC) immune effector cell platform that will underlie Century’s investigational oncology therapies.
Century entered into a partnership with FCDI in 2018 to use and develop FCDI’s iPSC-derived immune effector cell platform; FDCI will be the primary manufacturer of Century’s cellular products under the terms of the agreement.
Lalo Flores, PhD, CEO of Century Therapeutics, told Cell Therapy Next that his company plans to develop iPSC-derived chimeric antigen receptor T and chimeric antigen receptor natural killer (NK) cells.
“One of the original technologies we are developing is our own engineered propriety CARs, with optimized antigen biding domains that will bind to more than one target,” he said.
“Another will allow us to modulate the activity of the cells in vivo and incorporate other molecules that will allow us to overcome the tumor immunosuppressive environment in solid tumors.”
When asked which solid tumors his company’s investigational agents may target, Flores responded “everything is on the table at this point.”
The company’s cell therapy treatments will be based on allogeneic iPSC-derived cells, which are an “off-the-shelf” option that has been much sought after by the cell therapy industry because treatments do not require that cells be taken from and given back to the same patient — a method that is seen as both expensive and time consuming. Autologous cell therapies, like currently approved CAR T-cell therapies, are derived from the patient’s own cells and therefore present less antirejection complications and have proven to be sustainable in the body for long periods of time.
“The power of the allogeneic approach, especially iPSC-derived cells, is that they can be modified in multiple ways that allow them to avoid rejection and it enables multiple dosing of cells,” Flores told Cell Therapy Next. “We will be exploring approaches that ensure our cells persist long enough that they have suitable efficacy.”
Flores said the company’s first research scientists came on board in January and, so far, they have hired 25 researchers based at their headquarters in Philadelphia. Other notables among the research and development team at Century include Hyam Levitsky, MD, president of R&D; Luis Borges, PhD, chief scientific officer; and Adrienne Farid, PhD, chief development officer.
The company was cofounded by Marcela Maus, MD, PhD, assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, director of the Cellular Immunotherapy Cancer Center at Massachusetts General Hospital and a member of the Cell Therapy Next peer perspective board, and Hiro Nakauchi, MD, PhD, a professor of genetics at Stanford University School of Medicine.
"We are very excited about the potential of Century's platform,” Juergen Eckhardt, MD, head of Leaps by Bayer, the pharma company’s venture investment arm, said in a press release.
“It represents a unique opportunity in the development of next-generation cell therapies that promise to address previously incurable cancers," he added.
Flores said he views the work his company is doing as a potential replacement to autologous CAR T-cell therapy. Issues around the manufactured product’s consistency and cost are current barriers that autologous CAR T products must overcome, he added.
“Overall accessibility to the treatment will be dramatically enhanced, and that’s our dream. That’s why we are motivated to do this work,” Flores said.
“Autologous CAR T-cell therapy was a great proof of concept for the field and it inspired all of us. But if allogeneic off-the-shelf cell therapies prove to be as effective, then eventually they will replace autologous therapies,” he predicted.
“We want improve patients’ accessibility to these live-saving drugs. That is our aspiration.” – by Drew Amorosi
For more information:
Lalo Flores, PhD, can be reached at Century Therapeutics, 3675 Market Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104.
Century Therapeutics. Century Therapeutics launches with USD 250M financing for induced pluripotent stem cell (iPSC) allogeneic cell therapy platform. Available at: www.centurytherapeutics.com/media/downloads/Century-Launch-PR_7.1.19_FINAL3.pdf. Accessed July 3, 2019.