Local sensitivity

How Cell Design rewires T cell therapies for local action in multiple diseases

With a toolbox full of synthetic protein modules and a deal with Kite Pharma Inc. under its belt, Cell Design Labs Inc. is aiming to advance the next generation in cell-based therapies with a "smart" technology that responds to local disease environments. The company is betting its synNotch platform will dodge the cytokine storms and immunosuppression plaguing T cell therapies for cancer, and allow fine-tuned localized delivery for many indications.

Cell Design is aiming to move beyond the limitations of CAR T cells that rely on T cell signaling, which is prone to excessive or insufficient responses. Instead, it is creating cell therapies that signal independently of the endogenous machinery, using a simple system composed of a synthetic receptor construct and a gene that it controls.

"We're really trying to not just tickle the immune system in the way that vaccination or checkpoint inhibitors do, but really get in there and rewire and hack these cells," said scientific founder Wendell Lim. "If we can enhance their activities with new sensing and response behaviors, then that really unleashes a lot of power."

Lim is a University of California San Francisco (UCSF) professor of cellular and molecular pharmacology and director of the UCSF Center for Systems & Synthetic Biology. Since its founding in 2015, Cell Design has licensed multiple patent applications from the University of California based on Lim's work.

In June, the company announced it had amassed $34.4 million in venture funding from a series of investor and strategic partner financings and launched a partnership with Kite, one of its investors. Kite obtained exclusive rights to acute myelogenous leukemia (AML) applications using Cell Design's original platform, dubbed Throttle Switch, a pharmacologically

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