California-based startup Mission Bio has raised a new $70 million Series C funding round, led by Novo Growth and including participation from Soleus Capital and existing investors Mayfield, Cota and Agilent. Mission Bio will use the funding to scale its Tapestri Platform, which uses the company’s work in single-cell multi-omics technology to help optimize clinical trials for targeted, precision cancer therapies.
Mission Bio’s single-cell multi-omics platform is unique in the therapeutic industry. What it allows is the ability to zero in on a single cell, observing both genotype (fully genetic) and phenotype (observable traits influenced by genetics and other factors) impact resulting from use of various therapies during clinical trials. Mission’s Tapestri can detect both DNA and protein changes within the same single cell, which is key in determining effectiveness of targeted therapies because it can help rule out the effect of other factors not under control when analyzing in bulk (i.e. across groups of cells).
Founded in 2012 as a spin-out of research work conducted at UCSF, Mission Bio has raised a total of $120 million to date. The company’s tech has been used by a number of large pharmaceutical and therapeutic companies, including Agios, LabCorp and Onconova Therapeutics, as well as at cancer research centers including UCSF, Stanford and the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.
In addition to helping with the optimization of clinical trials for treatments of blood cancers and tumors, Mission’s tech can be used to validate genome editing — a large potential market that could see a lot of growth over the next few years with the rise of CRISPR-based therapeutic applications.
Bit Bio, the new startup which pitches itself as the “enter button for the keyboard to the software of life” only needed three weeks to raise its latest $41.5 million round of funding.
Originally known as Elpis Biotechnology and named for the Greek goddess of hope, the Cambridge, England-based company was founded by Mark Kotter in 2016 to commercialize technology that can reduce the cost and increase the production capacity for human cell lines. These cells can be used in targeted gene therapies and as a method to accelerate drug discovery at pharmaceutical companies.
The company’s goal is to be able to reproduce every human cell type.
“We’re just at a very crucial time in biology and medicine and the bottleneck that has become really clear is a scalable source of robust human cells,” said Kotter. “For drug discovery this is important. When you look at failure rates in clinical trials they’re at an all time high… that’s in direct contradiction to the massive advancements in biotechnology in research and the field.”
In the seventeen years since scientists completely mapped the human genome, and eight years since scientists began using the gene editing technology known as CRISPR to edit genetic material, there’s been an explosion of treatments based on individual patient’s genetic material and new drugs developed to more precisely target the mechanisms that pathogens use to spread through organisms.
These treatments and the small molecule drugs being created to stop the spread of pathogens or reduce the effects of disease require significant testing before coming to market — and Bit Bio’s founder thinks his company can both reduce the time to market and offer new treatments for patients.
It’s a thesis that had investors like the famous serial biotech entrepreneur, Richard Klausner, who served as the former director of the National Cancer Institute and founder of revolutionary biotech companies like Lyell Immunopharma, Juno, and Grail, leaping at the chance to invest in Bit Bio’s business, according to Kotter.
Joining Klausner are the famous biotech investment firms Foresite Capital, Blueyard Capital and Arch Venture Partners.
“Bit Bio is based on beautiful science. The company’s technology has the potential to bring the long-awaited precision and reliability of engineering to the application of stem cells,” said Klausner in a statement. “Bit Bio’s approach represents a paradigm shift in biology that will enable a new generation of cell therapies, improving the lives of millions.”
“What we did is what Yamanaka did. We turned everything upside down. We want to know how each cell is defined… and once we know that we can flip the switch,” said Kotter. “We find out which transcription factors code for a single cell and we turn it on.”
Kotter said the technology is like uploading a new program into the embryonic stem cell.
Although the company is still in its early days, it has managed to attract a few key customers and launch a sister company based on the technology. That company, Meatable, is using the same process to make lab-grown pork.
Meatable is the earliest claimant to a commercially viable, patented process for manufacturing meat cells without the need to kill an animal as a prerequisite for cell differentiation and growth.
Other companies have relied on fetal bovine serum or Chinese hamster ovaries to stimulate cell division and production, but Meatable says it has developed a process where it can sample tissue from an animal, revert that tissue to a pluripotent stem cell, then culture that cell sample into muscle and fat to produce the pork products that palates around the world crave.
“We know which DNA sequence is responsible for moving an early-stage cell to a muscle cell,” says Meatable chief executive Krijn De Nood.
If that sounds similar to Bit Bio, that’s because it’s the same tech — just used to make animal instead of human cells.
Image: PASIEKA/SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY/Getty Images
If Meatable is one way to commercialize the cell differentiation technology, Bit Bio’s partnership with the drug development company Charles River Laboratories is another.
“We actually do have a revenue generating business side using human cells for research and drug discovery. We have a partnership with Charles River Laboratories the large preclinical contract research organization,” Kotter said. “That partnership is where we have given early access to our technology to Charles River… They have their own usual business clients who want them to help with their drug discovery. The big bottleneck at the moment is access to human cells.”
Drug trials fail because the treatments developed either are toxic or don’t work in humans. The difference is that most experiments to prove how effective the treatments are rely on animal testing before making the leap to human trials, Kotter said.
The company is also preparing to develop its own cell therapies, according to Kotter. There, the biggest selling point is the increased precision that Bit Bio can bring to precision medicine, said Kotter. “If you look at these cell therapies at the moment you get mixed bags of cells. There are some that work and some that have dangerous side effects. We think we can be precise [and] safety is the biggest thing at this point.”
The company claims that it can produce cell lines in less than a week with 100 percent purity, versus the mixed bags from other companies cell cultures.
“Our moonshot goal is to develop a platform capable of producing every human cell type. This is possible once we understand the genes governing human cell behaviour, which ultimately form the ‘operating system of life’,” Kotter said in a statement. “This will unlock a new generation of cell and tissue therapies for tackling cancer, neurodegenerative disorders and autoimmune diseases and accelerate the development of effective drugs for a range of conditions. The support of leading deep tech and biotech investors will catalyse this unique convergence of biology and engineering.”
Personal Genome Diagnostics, the venture-backed developer of a novel diagnostic kit for genomic profiling of different cancers in lab settings, has received clearance from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for its PGDx elio tissue complete test.
The test’s approval is another step forward for precision therapies that rely on an understanding of the unique genomic profile of an individual patient’s tumor, according to the company.
The test detects single nucleotide variants and the small insertions and deletions known as indels. Single nucleotide variants, indels, and identifying characteristics like the tumor mutation burden can be used by physicians to determine how rapidly a disease like cancer to progress and can provide essential targets for precision therapies to individual tumors.
The information doctors collect from these tests can also be used to help oncologists identify patients for clinical trials.
The new diagnostics test cover 35 different tumor types.
“There has not, until this point, been one standardized test for all kinds of cancer that any lab across the country can perform,” said Dr. Pranil Chandra, Chief Medical Officer of Genomic and Clinical Pathology Services, PathGroup, an early collaborator for PGDx elio tissue complete, in a statement. “With this clearance, labs across the country will for the first time have an option for a regulated, standardized test that examines a broad view of cancer pathways and genomic signatures across advanced cancers.”
To date, Personal Genome Diagnostics has raised over $99 million, according to Crunchbase. The company’s investors include New Enterprise Associates, Bristol Myers Squibb, Inova Strategic Investments, Co-win Healthcare Fund, Helsinn Investment Fund, Windham Venture Partners, Maryland Venture Fund
“We are proud to have led the first institutional round for PGDx,” said Dr. Justin Klein, in a statement when the company raised a $75 million round back in 2018. “Rapid advances in immuno-oncology, targeted agents, and combination cancer therapies are heightening the importance of tumor genome testing that enables treatments to be targeted to those patients most likely to benefit.”
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