Jeff Bluestone, CEO of Sonoma Biotherapeutics. (Photo from Sonoma)
Preclinical biotechnology company based in Seattle and South San Francisco Sonoma Biotherapeutics has raised $ 265 million in new funding, the company announced Wednesday.
The funds will be used to advance its programs aimed at treating autoimmune and inflammatory conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis and type 1 diabetes.
The company’s approach involves engineering a special type of immune cell, a regulatory T cell, to enhance its therapeutic potential. These cells can suppress an overactive immune system, thus alleviating the symptoms of the disease. By adding a CAR (chimeric antigen receptor), researchers can also help direct cells to the correct location in the body.
The company’s most advanced regulatory CAR T cell product is being developed to treat rheumatoid arthritis patients unresponsive to current therapies. Sonoma also has a program investigating a biological agent for type 1 diabetes. That agent could potentially be used alone or with company-designed regulatory T cells.
The funds will be used to advance these two programs toward clinical trials and to develop other potential therapies for type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and other conditions such as Crohn’s disease.
“The idea is that we extract cells from the body of patients, manipulate them and put them back in patients,” said CEO and President Jeff Bluestone. in a video, “Then the cells become a therapy, they become medicine.”
Bluestone was previously Director of the Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy and founded the company in 2019 together with several other immune cell researchers: Alexander Rudensky, Fred Ramsdell and Qizhi Tang.
Harnessing regulatory T cells as therapies has been studied for years in academic labs, but lately the concept has formed the basis for several startups. Brisbane, California-based Sangamo Therapeutics is expected to launch a clinical trial later this year testing regulatory CAR T cells for kidney transplants, according to a report in Nature.
Other startups in the field include Boston-based Gentibio, which has a presence in Seattle. Gentibio’s co-founders include Seattle Children’s Research Institute scientist David Rawlings, Jane Buckner, president of Seattle’s Benaroya Research Institute, and Andrew Scharenberg, CEO of Seattle-based cell therapy company Umoja Biopharma.
The new, over-subscribed Series B round at Sonoma builds on two previous Series A rounds that together raised $ 70 million. Other investors in this round include GV, ARCH Venture Partners, Casdin Capital, Vertex Ventures HC, 8 VC, Frazier Healthcare Partners, and JDRF T1D, a disease-focused venture philanthropy fund.