5:43 PM
 | 
Jun 28, 2018
 |  BC Innovations  |  Product R&D

Highly personal

Why GV and Canaan backed Pact Pharma’s hyperpersonalized cancer approach

Pact Pharma Inc. has raised $120 million in venture financing to tackle one of the most complex forms of personalized medicine proposed to date: neoantigen-targeted T cells. Backed by Alphabet Inc.’s GV, the company is using an informatics mindset to create hyperpersonalized therapies.

The challenge will be to turn the technology into scalable products that could treat many more patients than other cell-based treatments.

Neoantigen companies have primarily focused on using tumor-specific mutations to create cancer vaccines that stoke an immune response.

Pact’s approach is more ambitious, aiming to use neoantigens as bait to fish out rare antitumor T cells from patient blood, then use information from those cells in blueprints for engineering autologous T cell therapies.

In May, Pact completed a $95.5 million series B round led by GV. Canaan Partners, AbbVie Ventures, Casdin Capital, DROIA, Foresite Capital, Invus, Pontifax, Taiho Ventures and Wu Capital also participated. The newco launched in 2016, and raised a $30 million series A led by GV in December of that year.

GV has made informatics-driven precision medicine a key theme in its portfolio; the firm has invested in genomics-based companies Foundation Medicine Inc., Grail Inc., Freenome Inc., LifeMine Therapeutics Inc. and 23andme Inc., patient data integrators Flatiron Health, DNAnexus Inc. and Owkin Inc., and neoantigen cancer vaccine company Gritstone Oncology Inc. GV has also put a stake in the ground for gene editing, joining the $120 million series B round for Editas Medicine in 2015.

Canaan, the second largest investor in the B round, was drawn by the degree to which Pact’s technology is tailored to each individual patient, according to general partner Nina Kjellson, who is a Pact board member. The approach, she said, is “a nod to the conviction that this kind of super-hyperpersonalization is the way cancer is going to be treated.”

Most personalized medicine products contain one or two elements unique to the patient, such as targeting a specific mutation or using the patient’s cells as starting material, but the rest of the process is standardized. Pact’s process is tailored at almost every step of the path.

Pact performs personalized sequencing, bioinformatic analyses, immunoassays, gene engineering and cell manufacturing for each patient. That means the products will be precisely tailored to a patient’s tumor and immune system.

However, it also raises questions about whether the company’s multimodal manufacturing process can scale with sustainable COGS.

“One critical success factor is an attitude that informatics is a critical enabling tool and not just an afterthought.”

Nina Kjellson, Canaan Partners

Interim president and GV general partner Blake Byers thinks the rapid pace of innovation in cell therapy manufacturing has made it an achievable goal. In the last five years, he said, improvements in the field have substantially cut the cost and time required to produce CAR T cells.

“We’ve traded what was a very manual, labor intensive process for a new cohort of companies using closed loop technologies to gain a lot of additional efficiency in the manufacturing process,” Byers told BioCentury. At least six companies are developing full or partially automated cell therapy manufacturing systems to sell...

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