T Cell Therapy Company Sonoma Biotherapeutics Raises $40 Million

By Dan Anderson ● February 11, 2020
  • Sonoma Biotherapeutics, a company that is developing regulatory T cell (Treg) therapies for autoimmune and degenerative diseases, announced recently that it raised $40 million

Sonoma Biotherapeutics, a company that is developing regulatory T cell (Treg) therapies for autoimmune and degenerative diseases, announced recently that it launched in San Francisco, CA and Seattle, WA with $40 million in Series A funding.

What does Sonoma do? Sonoma brings together next-generation research, development, and manufacturing capabilities in cell therapy and genetic engineering with an accomplished team of executives, scientists, board members, and investors with extensive experience in the fields of cell therapy and drug discovery.

“With this team and our assembled expertise and technologies, we are in an ideal position to move adoptive cell therapy beyond cancer, to establish safe, effective and long-lasting treatments for a range of conditions where current drugs and biologics are simply not good enough,” said Jeffrey Bluestone, CEO and President at Sonoma BioTherapeutics. “As the immune system’s master regulators of protecting the body against self-destruction, Treg cell therapy is perhaps the ideal means to shut down unwanted immune reactions and provide meaningful treatment for patients.”

This funding involves an investor syndicate that includes Lyell Immunopharma, ARCH Venture Partners, Milky Way Ventures, and 8VC.

“Treg therapies have the potential to transform the treatment of autoimmune and degenerative diseases,” added Robert Nelsen, managing partner and co-founder of ARCH Ventures Partners. “Sonoma Biotherapeutics has assembled the team and capabilities required to make this vision a reality for patients and their families.”

The goal of Treg therapy is to restore a state of self-tolerance by blocking harmful inflammatory responses in autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, multiple sclerosis, and degenerative diseases including amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and Alzheimer’s. There are more than 50 million Americans currently living with an autoimmune disease and millions more with some form of degenerative diseases. For many, existing therapies are ineffective at controlling their disease.

The goal of Treg therapy is to restore a state of self-tolerance by blocking harmful inflammatory responses in autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, multiple sclerosis, and degenerative diseases including amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and Alzheimer’s. There are more than 50 million Americans currently living with an autoimmune disease and millions more with some form of degenerative diseases. And for many, existing therapies are ineffective at controlling their disease.

Tregs have a clear role in many of these conditions. These cells’ natural ability to migrate to inflamed tissues and control harmful immune responses make them ideal for treating a range of conditions. And in addition, the ability to engineer Treg cells to target specific disease-causing antigens reduces the potential for unwanted systemic effects. Plus the role of Tregs in tissue maintenance and repair offers the potential for effective, durable, and restorative treatments.

Sonoma Biotherapeutics was co-founded by four of the foundational scientists in the Treg field, including Bluestone, Qizhi Tang, Fred Ramsdell, and Alexander Rudensky. And collectively, the founding team brings expertise and proprietary methodologies across the Treg drug discovery and development process, including selection, manipulation, editing, regulation, and translation for clinical use.

Drs. Bluestone and Tang together pioneered adoptive Treg cell therapy in some of its first clinical uses in type 1 diabetes, lupus, and organ transplantation. And Drs. Rudensky and Ramsdell co-discovered FOXP3, a critical transcription factor for Treg development and function, and in 2017 were awarded the Crafoord Prize by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences for their studies. Plus they are complemented by an experienced senior management team and seasoned board of directors.

“The Sonoma Biotherapeutics leadership are responsible for a significant portion of our understanding of the nature of Treg cells, their role in disease and their potential for use as a cell therapy,” explained Dr. Rick Klausner, CEO of Lyell Immunopharma and newly appointed Chair of the Sonoma Biotherapeutics Board of Directors. “Perhaps more importantly, they understand the requirements of a successful cell therapeutic and the corresponding challenges in defining the pathway to market. We look forward to a strong partnership between Lyell and Sonoma Biotherapeutics.”

Sonoma Biotherapeutics also entered a strategic partnership with Lyell that provides both parties with access to technologies and know-how to enhance the durability, stability, and specificity of cell therapies in their respective indications of focus. And this partnership will further enable Sonoma’s rapid translation of Treg therapies from target identification and discovery, through preclinical and clinical development.

The senior management team includes Bluestone, Ramsdell, Chief Business & Strategy Officer Peter DiLaura, and VP Translational Development Joshua Beilke. And the company’s board of directors includes Rick Klausner, Bluestone, Klausner, Grand Reserve Inn CEO Maggie Wilderotter, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Director of Strategy, Planning and Management for Global Health Toni Hoover, Arcus Biosciences CEO Terry Rosen, and 8VC Principal David Moskowitz (observer).