If you have an ACS member number, please enter it here so we can link this account to your membership. (optional)

ACS values your privacy. By submitting your information, you are gaining access to C&EN and subscribing to our weekly newsletter. We use the information you provide to make your reading experience better, and we will never sell your data to third party members.



Obsidian launches with $49.5 million to fine-tune cellular and gene therapies

Tunable technology was born in the labs of Stanford professor Thomas Wandless

by Lisa M. Jarvis
December 18, 2017 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 95, Issue 49

Credit: Obsidian Therapeutics
A photo of Michael Gilman.
Credit: Obsidian Therapeutics

Armed with $49.5 million in its first formal round of funding, Obsidian Therapeutics has launched to fine-tune the activity of cellular and gene therapies. The Boston-based biotech firm aims to make the treatments safer and more effective across a broader range of diseases.

Ever since early clinical trials suggested chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T cells could quickly obliterate blood cancer in some patients, companies have been racing to harness the technology, in which a patient’s own T cells are genetically engineered to include a protein receptor that helps them see and attack cancer cells.

The problem is that CAR T cells “are sort of on a therapeutic knife edge: They can either be profoundly effective or terribly toxic,” says Obsidian CEO Michael Gilman.

When CAR T cells home in on cancer cells, they can prompt a rapid—and potentially deadly—release of cytokines, proteins involved in immune system response. Moreover, CAR T cells don’t always produce lasting responses.

Obsidian hopes its technology, which was discovered in the labs of Stanford University professor Thomas Wandless, can address those limitations.

Wandless found a way to add a region on a protein, what he calls a “destabilizing domain,” that allows expression of the protein to be controlled based on exposure to a small molecule. Without the small molecule around, the protein is tagged for disposal in the cellular trash bin; when the small molecule—an already-approved drug—is given, the protein is stabilized.

By giving proteins something like a volume knob that can be tuned by small molecules, Obsidian expects to avoid the sometimes-deadly cytokine storms, while also giving CAR T cells “entirely new functionalities,” Gilman says.



This article has been sent to the following recipient:

Chemistry matters. Join us to get the news you need.