ArsenalBio Raises $85 Million In Funding To Develop Immune Cell Therapies

By Annie Baker ● Oct 25, 2019
  • ArsenalBio has raised $85 million in Series A funding to build effective and accessible programmable cell therapies. These are the details.

ArsenalBio recently announced that it raised $85 million in Series A funding to build effective and accessible programmable cell therapies. The company’s investors include Westlake Village BioPartners, the Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy (PICI), Kleiner Perkins, the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) Foundation Investment Company, Euclidean Capital, and Osage Venture Partners.

And ArsenalBio will integrate technologies like CRISPR-based genome engineering, scaled, and high throughput target identification, synthetic biology, and machine learning to advance a new paradigm to discover and develop immune cell therapies initially for cancer. The foundation of ArsenalBio stems from the contributions of scientific leaders from a consortium of academic medical and research institutions.

“Our goal is to address the unmet need and suffering of patients with cancer, and ultimately other diseases, by developing and advancing a new paradigm of human immune cell therapy design and treatment,” said Ken Drazan, MD, ArsenalBio’s founding Chief Executive Officer. “The integrated technology approach we’re embarking upon will create a new arsenal of tools and medicines for researchers, patients, and their physicians to reduce cancer morbidity and mortality.”

Current commercialized and first-generation T cell therapies are designed and manufactured with the goal of inserting into T cells a single cell-targeting transgene, which is a chimeric antigen receptor or a new T cell receptor through viral delivery. And ArsenalBio is seeking to exponentially advance this process by precisely inserting (without viral vectors) significantly larger DNA payloads, designed with proprietary tools and encoding a broader set of biological “software” instructions to enable immune cells to effectively target and destroy solid organ and hematologic cancers.

“The technology ArsenalBio is developing represents a significant advance in how cancer could be treated. The experience leaders such as Jane Grogan, Michael Kalos and Tarjei Mikkelsen bring, combined with Dr. Drazan’s results-oriented management approach, will help rapidly advance this transformational platform to benefit patients,” added Beth Seidenberg, MD, co-founding Managing Director of Westlake Village BioPartners.

ArsenalBio is taking an approach that moves beyond the current model of tumor-targeting strategies to enable the rewiring of immune cell circuitry through computationally driven design. And ArsenalBio aspires to evolve critical metrics of success for immune cell therapies, including enhanced and broader efficacy along with increased patient safety, reduced provider costs, and expanded market access.

“ArsenalBio is taking different approaches to gene editing, target selection, cell circuit engineering, and computation to reimagine dosing, delivery, persistence, and affordability of cell therapy. The networks of pharma, science, and talent relationships of PICI, Westlake and Kleiner Perkins is a booster to ArsenalBio’s remarkable team and R&D progress,” explained Brook Byers, founding partner of Kleiner Perkins.

The management team at ArsenalBio includes seasoned industry executives who have deep immuno-oncology, cell therapy and genomic expertise such as Ken Drazan, MD (most recently served as President of GRAIL), Jane Grogan, PhD, Chief Scientific Officer (formerly Principal Scientist and Head of Adaptive Tumor Immunity and Cell Therapy at Genentech), Michael Kalos, PhD, Executive Vice President, Head of Research & Development (formerly Vice President, Immuno-Oncology and Cell Therapies at Janssen Oncology), and Tarjei Mikkelsen, PhD, Chief Technology Officer (formerly Vice President of Biology at 10x Genomics).

“ArsenalBio allows us to rewrite vast stretches of code to give T cells dramatic new functions–that means they can be made to be more effective at killing cancer and a broad spectrum of other diseases,” commented Sean Parker, founder and Chairman of PICI. “It’s also very rewarding to see ArsenalBio born from the deep collaboration of PICI investigators—who worked together across research centers, hospitals, and universities on the science behind these technologies. The company’s very existence demonstrates how much faster and better we can get therapies from bench to bedside when we collaborate and put patients first.”

The board of directors at ArsenalBio includes several industry leaders who have proven track records building successful companies. This includes Drazen, Seidenberg, Byers, Parker, and Alexander Marson, MD, PhD, Associate Professor of Microbiology/Immunology, UCSF and PICI Investigator.

And the company’s scientific founders include a group of bi-coastal and multi-disciplinary consortium of leading academic researchers, including Marson, Bradley Bernstein, MD, PhD (Professor of Pathology, Massachusetts General Hospital / Broad Institute), Nick Haining, BM BCh (Vice President of Discovery Oncology at Merck), Theo Roth, PhD (UCSF School of Medicine and ArsenalBio’s founding interim Chief Scientific Officer), Kole Roybal, PhD (Assistant Professor of Immunology, UCSF and PICI Investigator), and E. John Wherry, PhD (Chairman and Distinguished Presidential Professor of Systems Immunology, UPenn and PICI Investigator, Chair Arsenal Science Advisory Board).