A2 Biotherapeutics, a biotechnology company developing innovative cell therapies for cancer patients, today announced its official launch. The company, founded in 2018 by veteran biotechnology leaders, has a unique and potentially broad solution for the central problem of cancer research – targeted killing of tumor cells vs. normal cells. A2 Biotherapeutics employs a powerful discovery and optimization technology to identify antibody and T-cell receptor fragments that bind to targets that are technically challenging but definitively distinguish tumor cells. The target binder platform is seamlessly combined with proprietary cell engineering, modular vector designs, and novel quantitative assays to extend the reach of cell therapies into solid tumors.
Investors in the $57 million Series A financing include The Column Group, Vida Ventures, Samsara BioCapital and Nextech Invest.
Tumor cells exhibit only subtle differences from normal cells, making it challenging to create cancer therapies that recognize and kill only tumor cells. A2 Biotherapeutics is overcoming this challenge, having already demonstrated targeted killing of tumor cells in its research. The company aims to beat cancer via tumor-specific targeting using a novel approach that considers targets gained or lost in cancer cells. “This approach has the promise of being utilized for multiple tumor types, providing solutions for many cancer patients. A2 Biotherapeutics has potent, highly selective binders that we combine into molecular constructs to integrate multiple signals and potentially provide a large therapeutic window,” said Alexander Kamb, Co-Founder and chief scientific officer. Kamb was formerly SVP of Research at Amgen.
To unequivocally distinguish tumor cells from healthy cells, A2 Biotherapeutics is pursuing two target classes. First, the company addresses peptide MHC targets, which are generated inside the cell and presented on the cell surface, providing the potential to access intracellular targets gained in tumors (e.g., neo-antigens). The second target class is tackled through modular cell engineering to deploy a more powerful version of the mechanism used by natural killer cells. This latter approach addresses targets that are irreversibly lost in tumor cells via loss of heterozygosity.
To advance its product candidates, A2 Biotherapeutics has a fully integrated discovery, development and manufacturing organization in Agoura Hills, California with a team that already includes more than 40 staff. Efforts are led by an experienced management team aggregating the experience of ex-Amgen and ex-Kite Pharma drug and cell therapy developers. Scott Foraker, an executive with 25 years of experience at Amgen, was recently hired as president and chief executive officer. “Our unique approach to targeted killing of tumor cells has the potential to create breakthrough cancer therapies that we look forward to bringing to patients, particularly those in need of new approaches,” said Foraker.
The company also has the support of distinguished academic experts in cell therapy and T-cell biology, including:
Mark Davis, PhD, Director, Stanford Institute for Immunity, Transplantation and Infection and The Burt And Marion Avery Family Professor of Microbiology and Immunology at Stanford University
Robert Schreiber, PhD, AM Bursky & JM Bursky Distinguished Professor of Pathology & Immunology at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis
David Maloney, MD, PhD, Medical Director of Cellular Immunotherapy at the Immunotherapy Integrated Research Center (IIRC) and Leonard and Norma Klorfine Endowed Chair for Clinical Research at Fred Hutch
George Tsokos, MD, Professor of Medicine at the Harvard Medical School and Chief of Rheumatology at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston
A2 Biotherapeutics currently has four programs in development with the first clinical candidate expected next year and is open to collaborations to rapidly advance these programs.
The company’s plans also include innovations in manufacturing; it will launch an autologous cell manufacturing facility in 2020 with technology scalable for commercial launch. “A2 Biotherapeutics aspires to increase speed to patients and reduce cost of goods by leveraging its cell therapy manufacturing expertise and advances in technology,” said Madhu Balachandran, former EVP of Operations at Amgen and member of A2 Biotherapeutics Board of Directors.
About A2 Biotherapeutics
A2 Biotherapeutics’ mission is to beat cancer via tumor-specific targeting by addressing targets gained or lost in cancer cells which unequivocally discriminate tumor from normal tissue. The company is focused on addressing the next frontier in cancer cell therapy, solid tumors.
A2 Biotherapeutics leverages a powerful platform designed specifically for cell therapies that enables identification of rare binders derived from antibodies or T-cell receptors, precision binder engineering and optimization, and modular signaling construct designs. A component of the platform, the HuTARG™ technology, is licensed from its collaborator and co-founder, Innovative Targeting Solutions (Vancouver, British Columbia).