Catamaran Bio, a Boston-based biotechnology startup that develops genetic therapies to treat cancer based on research at the University of Minnesota Medical School, has raised $42 million in venture capital.
That is a record amount raised by any company rooted in the U’s scientific research.
Venture capital firms Sofinnova Partners and Lightstone Ventures led the Series A inaugural round of equity financing, with participation by founding investor SV Health Investors as well as Takeda Ventures and Astellas Venture Management.
Proceeds will be used to advance the company’s “two lead chimeric antigen receptor (CAR)-NK cell therapy programs” and expand Catamaran’s technology to design, engineer and manufacture cell therapies.
“In assembling the team at Catamaran, we saw an opportunity to pioneer a highly differentiated approach to develop allogeneic cell therapies using CAR-NK cells,” said Houman Ashrafian, managing partner of SV Health Investors and a founder of Catamaran. “The success of autologous CAR T-cell therapies in hematological malignancies has opened the door to the breakthrough potential of cell therapies for cancer. Catamaran is well positioned to improve upon this groundwork by developing off-the-shelf cell therapies [for] solid tumors.”
Branden Moriarity, 37, an assistant professor in the Department of Pediatrics, Division of Hematology/Oncology at the university, is one of the two scientific founders of Catamaran. Moriarity is expert in engineering NK and other immune cells for cell therapy.
“This is technology that I developed to engineer immune cells called ‘natural-killer cells,’ and we engineer the cells by changing their genetic code to kill the cancer cells,” Moriarity said in an interview Monday. “It’s a new way to treat cancer. Others are doing this of course. But we at the U of M … have demonstrated a unique ability to engineer these cells and related technology.”
Moriarity and the U will remain minority shareholders in Catamaran following the investment from the venture capital firms.
The other scientist behind Catamaran is Catherine Bollard, an immunologist and professor of pediatrics and microbiology, at George Washington University and director of the center for cancer immunology research at the Children’s Research Institute, Children’s National Hospital.
This is the second successful commercial transaction in two years based on Moriarity’s research at the U.
In 2019, Twin Cities-based Bio-Techne Corp. acquired B-MoGen Biotechnologies, a U startup that added to Bio-Techne’s portfolio of cell and gene therapy products. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.
B-MoGen Biotechnologies provides engineering tools, strategies and techniques for genome engineering work, particularly in the areas of therapeutic genome engineering and services.