New spinout: Boston-based biotech startup Ensoma launched Thursday and announced a $70 million Series A funding round. The company is built on technology developed over two decades by Seattle researchers Dr. Hans-Peter Kiem of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and Dr. André Lieber of the University of Washington School of Medicine.
The company will be based in Boston because the city “is the epicenter of biotech and Ensoma could quickly draw the talent, not only for research but as the company scales in manufacturing and clinical development,” said Paula Soteropoulos, the company’s executive chairman. The company’s lead investor and top leadership are also in Boston.
Biotech strategy: The company’s Engenious vectors are designed to deliver gene therapies to patients without requiring stem cell donation or pre-treatments such as chemotherapy. The therapy can treat a variety of ailments including rare diseases, cancer, autoimmune disease, and infectious diseases. Another benefit is the treatment can be given in a single injection in settings that include outpatient clinics.
Go deeper: The vectors can carry long stretches of genetic material targeting a variety of cell types, including hematopoietic stem cells that are found in the bone marrow, or cells such as T cells, B cells and myeloid cells that arise from the stem cells. The vectors, which are engineered adenovirus vectors, deliver genetic material that can edit out errors in genetic code, insert genomic information or modify gene expression.
In 2019, Kiem gave a TEDxSeattle talk on the science involved.
Founder pedigree: Kiem, who is director of the Stem Cell and Gene Therapy Program at the Fred Hutch, and Lieber, a professor with the UW’s Division of Medical Genetics, will be scientific co-founders of Ensoma. Kiem will be Ensoma’s chief scientific and clinical advisor. Both earned advanced academic degrees in Germany.
Soteropoulos is a biotech veteran who previously founded Akcea Therapeutics and was an exec at Moderna and Sanofi Genzyme. She is a strategic advisor for 5AM Ventures, a venture firm with offices in Boston and San Francisco and Ensoma’s lead investor.
Dr. Kush Parmar, Ensoma’s founding chief executive officer, is a managing partner at 5AM Ventures.
“Because our in vivo therapies do not require prior conditioning or stem cell donors, we hope to deliver them as ‘off-the-shelf’ treatments to address diseases — both rare and common — dramatically simplifying the logistics of scaling production and reducing patient and healthcare-system burden,” Soteropoulos said in a statement. “Every person, no matter where they are in the world, should have access to the innovative technologies that are changing the way we treat disease.”
Spinout success: Other Fred Hutch spinouts include Juno Therapeutics and Adaptive Biotechnologies, while University of Washington research led to the launch of Icosavax, Neoleukin Therapeutics, Universal Cells, Cyrus Biotechnology and others.
Investor interest: The financing was led by co-founder and seed investor 5AM Ventures with participation from F-Prime Capital, Takeda Ventures, Viking Global Investors, Cormorant Capital, RIT Capital Partners, Alexandria Venture Investments and Symbiosis II. The funding includes a potential additional $100 million in “upfront and preclinical research payments” pegged to collaboration with Takeda.