Company brings together scientific founders with leading-edge expertise in NK cells and leadership team with deep cell therapy experience
Proceeds to advance two lead CAR-NK cell therapy programs based on the company’s TAILWIND™ platform
CAMBRIDGE, Mass. – November 23, 2020 – Catamaran Bio, Inc., a biotechnology company developing allogeneic CAR-NK cell therapies to treat cancer, today announced that the company has launched with $42 million in financing. Sofinnova Partners and Lightstone Ventures co-led the Series A round that is part of the launch financing, with participation by founding investor SV Health Investors, as well as Takeda Ventures and Astellas Venture Management. Proceeds will be used to advance the company’s two lead chimeric antigen receptor (CAR)-NK cell therapy programs. In addition, funding will expand the company’s TAILWIND™ platform, an integrated and proprietary suite of technologies for designing, genetically engineering, and manufacturing allogeneic CAR-NK cell therapies.
“In assembling the founding team at Catamaran, we saw an opportunity to pioneer a highly differentiated approach to develop allogeneic cell therapies using CAR-NK cells,” said Houman Ashrafian, Managing Partner, SV Health Investors and a founder of Catamaran. “To date, the success of autologous CAR T-cell therapies in hematological malignancies has opened the door to the breakthrough potential of cell therapies for cancer, and Catamaran is now well positioned to improve upon this groundwork by developing off-the-shelf CAR-NK cell therapies capable of reaching solid tumors.”
A novel approach to developing off-the-shelf cell therapies to address solid tumors
Catamaran’s TAILWIND platform integrates proprietary capabilities to create novel, allogeneic CAR‑NK cell therapies by harnessing the natural cancer-fighting properties of natural killer (NK) cells and enhancing them with the power of synthetic biology and innovative NK cell engineering and manufacturing. With the TAILWIND platform, CAR-NK cells are programmed with NK cell-specific CAR architectures and potency-boosting switches to neutralize the hostile tumor microenvironment and enable efficacy against diverse cancer types, especially solid tumors. Additionally, the TAILWIND platform includes proprietary, non-viral NK cell engineering technology for efficient modification of NK cells with customized genetic programs enabled by synthetic biology. Catamaran’s CAR-NK cell therapies use healthy donor cells that are engineered and manufactured for off‑the‑shelf use, unlike current CAR-T cell therapies that use a patient’s own genetically modified T cells and require a customized, multi-week manufacturing process.
“Catamaran is focused on expanding the frontier of cell therapies to treat solid tumors and provide transformative benefit to cancer patients. We are doing this by creating allogeneic cell therapies that harness the innate cancer-fighting power of NK cells and enhancing them with new biologically-powerful attributes from our leading-edge technologies – all originating from our custom-built TAILWIND platform for designing, engineering and manufacturing off-the-shelf CAR-NK cell therapies,” said Vipin Suri, PhD, MBA, Chief Scientific Officer of Catamaran.
During Catamaran’s stealth period, the start-up team assembled key components of the TAILWIND platform and related intellectual property, including a set of potency-boosting cellular switches to enable therapeutic action in the immunosuppressive tumor microenvironment of solid tumors, and it generated early proof of concept using a non-viral transposon system to efficiently deliver large genetic cargos into NK cells. Based on this early work, the company has rapidly advanced two lead CAR-NK cell therapy programs to lead optimization stage.
“With its holistic and cutting-edge approach, Catamaran stands out in the rapidly-evolving NK cell field with a platform that addresses the full complement of capabilities necessary to develop CAR-NK cell therapies, while focusing on the high-impact technologies of synthetic biology and innovative gene delivery systems that can enable these new cell therapies to offer extraordinary value in the field of cancer treatment,” said Maina Bhaman, Partner, Sofinnova Partners.
Scientific founders and leadership team
Catamaran’s scientific founders are pioneers in NK cell biology, engineering, manufacturing and clinical application and are proven innovators in the cell therapy field:
- Catherine Bollard, MD, Professor of Pediatrics and Microbiology, Immunology and Tropical Medicine at George Washington (GW) University; Director of the Center for Cancer Immunology Research at the Children’s Research Institute, Children’s National Hospital; Director of the Program for Cell Enhancement and Technologies for Immunotherapy Program at GW and Children’s National Hospital. Bollard is a leader in the immunology and immunotherapy field and has made internationally recognized discoveries, leading to novel technologies in cancer, including related to potency-boosting switches for NK cells.
- Branden Moriarity, PhD, Assistant Professor in the Department of Pediatrics, Division of Hematology/Oncology at the University of Minnesota. Dr. Moriarity is an expert in engineering NK and other immune cells for cell therapy, and he has made significant discoveries in non‑viral cell engineering using DNA transposon systems. He holds multiple patents for technologies using DNA transposon systems, targeted nuclease platforms (TALEN and CRISPR/Cas9) and base editors, and he is widely published in the field of genome engineering. Dr. Moriarity and Catamaran are collaborating on the groundbreaking NK cell engineering technology developed at the University of Minnesota to further advance the manufacturing of CAR-NK cells.
Additional founders of Catamaran are Kevin Pojasek, PhD, and Tim Harris, PhD, through their roles as venture partners with SV Health Investors.
The leadership team at Catamaran Bio has deep expertise in cell therapy research and product development, and the team includes: Vipin Suri, PhD, MBA, Chief Scientific Officer, who has more than 20 years of biopharmaceutical experience, including as a co-founder of Obsidian Therapeutics and Serien (formerly Raze) Therapeutics, and earlier in R&D roles at GSK, Pfizer and Wyeth; Mark Boshar, JD, Chief Operating Officer, who has more than 25 years of leadership experience spanning legal, business development, financings and operations for biotechnology companies, including as VP, Legal Affairs at Rubius Therapeutics, Associate General Counsel at Millennium Pharmaceuticals, a senior advisor to a range of venture-backed start-up companies, and earlier as a life sciences attorney with WilmerHale; Chris Carpenter, MD, PhD, Chief Medical Officer, who has 20 years of clinical and laboratory experience in oncology, including as CMO of Rubius Therapeutics, SVP and Head of Cancer Epigenetics Discovery at GSK, and roles at Merck and Harvard Medical School/Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center; Celeste Richardson, PhD, Senior VP of Research, who has 16 years of experience in research and drug discovery in biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies, including at Obsidian Therapeutics and Novartis; and Bharat Reddy, PhD, MPhil, MA, Senior Director of Business Development, who has served as director of business development at bluebird bio, as well as roles at SV Health Investors and ClearView Healthcare Partners.
“Catamaran is positioned to open up new territory for cancer treatments with highly potent CAR-NK cell therapies, and we are confident in the experienced leadership team and the scientific expertise that is propelling the company’s research and development,” said Caroline Gaynor, Principal, Lightstone Ventures.
Concurrent with the Series A financing, Maina Bhaman of Sofinnova Partners, Caroline Gaynor of Lightstone Ventures and Rob Woodman of Takeda Ventures join Houman Ashrafian and Kevin Pojasek on the Catamaran board of directors.
About Catamaran Bio
Catamaran Bio is developing novel, off-the-shelf CAR-NK cell therapies designed to treat a broad range of cancers, including solid tumors. Our proprietary capabilities enable us to harness the natural cancer-fighting properties of NK cells and enhance and tailor their effectiveness with the power of synthetic biology and innovative non-viral cell engineering. We are using our TAILWINDTM platform, an integrated suite of technologies, to specifically address the end-to-end methods of engineering, processing and manufacturing NK cells and rapidly advance our pipeline of CAR-NK cell therapy programs.
Our team combines experienced biopharmaceutical leadership with founding scientists who are pioneers in NK cell biology, engineering, manufacturing and clinical application. Catamaran is backed by leading financial and corporate investors, including SV Health Investors, Sofinnova Partners, Lightstone Ventures, Takeda Ventures and Astellas Venture Management. For more information, please visit www.catamaranbio.com and follow us on LinkedIn and @CatamaranBio on Twitter.
Kathryn Morris, The Yates Network