BioPharma, Pharma

Cancer biotech Indapta nabs $50M for new approach to natural killer cell therapy

Natural killers cells are the focus of a growing number of companies pursuing next-generation cell therapies for cancer. Indapta Therapeutics focuses on a subset of this class of cancer-killing cells, and it aims to use them in combination with antibody drugs to boost efficacy.

 

Natural killer cells might turn out to be the next big thing in cancer treatment, offering off-the-shelf products capable of addressing more types of cancer compared to the first-generation of cell therapies made from a patient’s own T cells. Startup Indapta Therapeutics is taking an approach that could further improve this emerging class of therapies, and it now has a $50 million cash infusion.

Indapta’s Series A round of funding announced Thursday was co-led by RA Capital Management, Vertex Ventures, and Leaps by Bayer.

Natural killer (NK) cells are a type of immune cell that have the ability to kill viral pathogens and cancer cells. Unlike T cells that need to be primed or activated, NK cells carry out their task without prompting, making them “natural” killers. NK cells also secrete signaling proteins called cytokines that recruit other types of immune cells to enhance the immune response.

San Francisco-based Indapta develops its therapies from a subset of NK cells called G-NK cells, which the company says are more potent compared to conventional NK cells. These G-NK cells, which are obtained from healthy donors, do not require genetic engineering so they can serve as lower cost, off-the-shelf alternative to CAR T-cell therapies, which are harvested from a patient and engineered in a lab in a multi-step manufacturing process.

Though Indapta’s cell therapies are not genetically engineered like CAR T-therapies, the biotech says its manufacturing process enhances the G-NK cells to boost their efficacy and how long they last following infusion into the patient. Also, the cancer-killing activity of these cells is enhanced when they are combined with an antibody drug. According to Indapta, the binding of a monoclonal antibody the tumor target and the biotech’s G-NK cell therapy triggers the release of “dramatically more” cancer-killing compounds than conventional NK cells. As a result, these therapies should offer better efficacy while needing less frequent dosing. The company said its therapy is intended to be combined with FDA-approved antibody drugs to treat a variety of cancers, both blood cancers and the solid tumors that have eluded cell therapies.

In preclinical studies, Indapta reported its G-NK cells were able to persist in a multiple myeloma mouse model. Furthermore, combining the cell therapy with daratumumab, an antibody drug currently used to treat multiple myeloma, led to a greater than 99.9% reduction in tumors compared to the combination of that drug with conventional NK cells. This research was published last August in the journal Blood Advances.

The NK cell therapy sector has seen a lot of activity in the past year. Wugen, a developer of off-the-shelf NK and T cell therapies, closed a $172 million Series B round of funding last summer. Like Indapta, Wugen sources its cells from healthy donors. Shoreline Biosciences raised $140 million last November to support the development of its NK therapies, which are made from induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs). Century Therapeutics, which began a partnership with Bristol Myers Squibb last month, also uses iPSCs to produce both NK and T cell therapies.

Indapta was founded in 2017 based on the research of Sungjin Kim, a professor in the Center for Immunology and Infectious Diseases at the University of California, Davis, and John Sunwoo, director of the head and neck cancer research at Stanford University. The company’s founding CEO, Guy DiPierro, is moving to a new role as chief strategy officer. Indapta has appointed Mark Frohlich, a former executive at cancer cell therapy developer Juno Therapeutics, to serve as the new CEO.

“I joined Indapta because I believe its NK cell platform is truly differentiated and its preclinical data is particularly compelling,” Frohlich said in a prepared statement. “I’m excited to bring this off-the-shelf cell therapy to the clinic, where we have the potential to demonstrate it can benefit patients without the toxicities associated with currently approved cell therapies.”

The Myeloma Investment Fund and Lonza, a contract manufacturer, also participated in Indapta’s Series A round. The biotech said that it will use the cash to advance toward the filing of an investigational new drug application and clinical trials. Indapta is partnered with Lonza, which will use its cell therapy manufacturing capability to make the G-NK cells for clinical research.

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