PHILADELPHIA--(BUSINESS WIRE)--CARMA Therapeutics Inc., a biotechnology company developing cellular immunotherapies, co-founded by the University of Pennsylvania (Penn), announced today that it has closed an initial financing. The financing was co-led by AbbVie Ventures and HealthCap with participation by Grazia Equity and IP Group Inc. CARMA Therapeutics is building a pipeline of cancer programs using its proprietary CARMA platform, combining chimeric antigen receptor targeting with macrophages to tackle solid tumors. The proceeds will be used primarily to advance the development of its first product, CARMA-0508, an adoptive cellular immunotherapy using chimeric antigen receptor macrophages (CARMA) for the treatment of metastatic solid tumors. Specific terms of the financing transaction were not disclosed.
CARMA Therapeutics is being built upon innovative technology from the Center for Cellular Immunotherapies at the University of Pennsylvania, and was spun out from the laboratory of Saar Gill, MD, PhD, assistant professor of Hematology Oncology in the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. “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. The innate biology drove us to try macrophages,” says Dr. Gill, co-founder of CARMA Therapeutics, who conducts bench and clinical research on chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T cells, and now on CAR macrophages.
“Macrophages can engulf and kill cells through the process of phagocytosis. By genetically engineering these cells with CARs, we can specifically direct them to tumor cells, such as ovarian cancer cells,” says co-founder Michael Klichinsky, PharmD, a PhD candidate in the Department of Systems Pharmacology and Translational Therapeutics at the University of Pennsylvania. “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.”
“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. 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,” said Dora Mitchell, PhD, Director of the UPstart program at PCI Ventures, a division of the Penn Center for Innovation (PCI), which launched the company in keeping with the University of Pennsylvania commitment to innovation and commercialization of Penn inventions.
Cell therapy oncology products in clinical development have shown promise in the treatment of hematological cancers. “The next frontier in immuno-oncology is in solid tumors,” says Bruce Peacock, a veteran of Philadelphia biotech successes Centocor and Cephalon, and Executive Chairman of CARMA Therapeutics. “When I first met the founding team, I was impressed by the promising technology developed by Drs. Gill and Klichinsky and delighted to work with Dr. Mitchell in building CARMA. Dora’s leadership in creating CARMA is a great example of the University of Pennsylvania commitment to move its powerful research into companies and products, which will create jobs and benefit patients. I believe that CARMA Therapeutics has the potential to be the next great Philadelphia biotech and am honored to help build that.”
To bring CARMA to its full potential, the Board is looking to expand the team with the recruitment of a CEO as its top priority.
About CARMA Therapeutics Inc.
CARMA TherapeuticsSM is a biotechnology company founded in 2016 to bring the power of adoptive cellular immunotherapy to solid tumor patients through a novel platform using chimeric antigen receptor macrophages (CARMA). The company’s proprietary technology was developed at the Center for Cellular Immunotherapy at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. CARMA TherapeuticsSM is headquartered in Philadelphia, PA. For more information, visit www.carmatherapeutics.com.
About PCI Ventures
PCI Ventures, a division of the Penn Center for Innovation, manages a portfolio of emerging companies based on University of Pennsylvania inventions. Through a unique hands-on company building model, called UPstart, PCI Ventures partners with faculty and staff to turn their ideas into commercial products for the benefit of the University, the Philadelphia economy and society. For more information, www.pci.upenn.edu/pciventures.