New funding: Notch Therapeutics has raised a $85 million Series A round, bringing its total funding to $91 million. The biotech company was founded in 2018 and is developing stem cell-derived immunotherapies for cancer.
Seattle expansion: The startup has offices in Vancouver, B.C. and Toronto and will use some of the new capital to open a facility in Seattle, adding another player to the city’s growing biotech scene. Notch currently has 35 employees, with plans to grow that number to 100 by the end of 2022. About 20 of those jobs will be in Seattle, where it is opening a research laboratory, with the possibility of expanding into regulatory and clinical functions.
Biotech innovation: The company is developing a biotech platform that can take renewable stem cell lines and manipulate their development to turn them into T cells and other types of immune cells used in therapies. The company’s Engineered Thymic Niche platform is so named because it mimics actions of the human thymus, causing cells to differentiate into specialized cell types.
Companies such as California’s Fate Therapeutics are also developing T cells from similar sorts of stem cells, but Notch officials said their technology is special because of its ability to control T cell development without using a separate feeder cell line or animal reagents.
The startup is collaborating with Allogene Therapeutics to develop a treatment for non-Hodgkin lymphoma, leukemia and multiple myeloma.
Founders’ pedigrees: Notch Therapeutics is commercializing technologies developed in the labs of Juan-Carlos Zúñiga-Pflücker, chair of Notch’s scientific advisory board, and Chief Scientific Officer Peter Zandstra. In addition to his role with Notch, Zúñiga-Pflücker is a researcher at the Sunnybrook Research Institute and department chair at the University of Toronto. Zandstra is a professor at the University of British Columbia and University of Toronto, and was a co-founder of Excellthera and the Centre for Commercialization of Regenerative Medicine.
David Main is Notch president and CEO. He co-founded Aquinox Pharmaceuticals.
Immunotherapy hotbed: Seattle is home to numerous institutions developing immunotherapy treatments. That includes the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, which are also jointly home to the Bezos Family Immunotherapy Clinic, as well as Benaroya Research Institute and Seattle Children’s Hospital.
Local immunotherapy biotech companies include Umoja Biopharma, Sana Biotechnology, Chinook Therapeutics, Kineta, Alpine Immune Sciences, Adaptive Biotechnologies, and others.
Investor interest: The financing was led by an unnamed healthcare-focused investment fund, with participation by existing investors Allogene Therapeutics, Lumira Ventures and CCRM Enterprises Holdings, as well as new investors EcoR1 Capital, Casdin Capital, Samsara BioCapital, Amplitude Ventures and an undisclosed firm.
“We have great confidence in Notch’s high-caliber management team and the rigorous science underlying its research programs,” said Dr. David Chang, president and CEO of Allogene and member of the Notch board of directors.