CARMA Therapeutics has closed an initial financing, co-led by AbbVie Ventures and HealthCap, to build a pipeline of cancer programs using its proprietary chimeric antigen receptor targeting with macrophages (CARMA) platform to tackle solid tumors.
The Philadelphia-based company will use proceeds mainly to develop its first product, CARMA-0508, an adoptive cellular immunotherapy designed to treat metastatic solid tumor, such as those that may result from ovarian cancer. Terms of the transaction weren’t disclosed.
“Macrophages can engulf and kill cells through the process of phagocytosis. By genetically engineering these cells with CARs, we can specifically direct them to tumor cells, such as ovarian cancer cells,” Michael Klichinsky, co-founder of CARMA Therapeutics and a doctoral student at University of Pennsylvania, said in a press release. “Our pre-clinical data support our hypothesis and show targeted, selective and effective killing of solid tumor cells by CARMA. In addition, we expect that CAR macrophages will prime a T cell immune response against the tumor.”
CARMA Therapeutics was created using technology developed at UPenn’s Center for Cellular Immunotherapies, by Dr. Saar Gill, an assistant professor of hematologic oncology. Gill conducts bench and clinical research on chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T-cells, as well as on CAR macrophages.
While genetically engineered T-cells have shown exciting results in preclinical trials, the response rates in solid cancer have been disappointing. T-cells penetrate poorly into solid tumors, which led the researchers to hypothesize that macrophages could be better suited to use in immunotherapies. Macrophages are innate immune cells that are actively recruited into the tumor microenvironment, where they are highly abundant.
“We hypothesized early on that focusing on different effector cells, other than T cells, might be more effective in trying to tackle solid tumors, which has been a challenge for T cell therapies. The innate biology drove us to try macrophages,” said Gill.
“The next frontier in immuno-oncology is in solid tumors,” said the company’s executive chairman, Bruce Peacock. “I believe that CARMA Therapeutics has the potential to be the next great Philadelphia biotech and I am honored to help build that.”