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Antigen profiling start-up launches with $57 million in funding

Cartography Biosciences says it will develop a comprehensive antigen atlas for immuno-oncology targets

by Shi En Kim
July 19, 2022


The founders of Cartography Biosciences.
Credit: Cartography Biosciences
Cartography’s CEO Kevin Parker (center), along with other co-founders, Howard Chang (left) and Ansu Satpathy (right).

A new biotech company, Cartography Biosciences, has launched today with $57 million in series A funding from investors such as 8VC, Andreessen Horowitz, and Wing VC. The firm plans to profile a broad swath of antigens in the human body to develop more precise immunotherapies that can distinguish cancer cells from healthy ones.

An immunotherapy’s efficacy at eliminating cancer depends on its ability to home in on the right targets. “Efficacy and toxicity are really two sides of the same coin,” says Kevin Parker, Cartography’s CEO. Cancer-combating treatments that engage the immune system, ranging from antibodies to reprogrammed immune cells, need to distinguish diseased tissues from normal cells to minimize collateral damage. Parker says profiling the antigens that are uniquely expressed by tumor cells is the key to doing this.

“Engineered therapies will only be as good as the antigens they target,” he says. Other approaches for classifying tumors, including scrutinizing a cancer’s appearance or genetic mutations, aren’t as effective, Cartography contends.

Parker founded the company while he was finishing up his PhD at Stanford University. His co-founders are his then-PhD advisor, dermatologist Howard Chang, and former colleague and advisor, pathologist Ansu Satpathy. They formed Cartography after realizing that other companies were finding drug candidates based on existing antigen targets but weren’t doing much to discover new ones.

According to Parker, antigen analysis by most firms typically occurs on the scale of tens of thousands of cells, giving rise to a handful of drug candidates revolving around the same biology. Cartography is dramatically widening the space of antigen profiling—sifting cells by the millions, Parker says—to allow for immunotherapies that may have different modalities altogether. If resulting treatments are more precise, they will also require smaller doses and have fewer side effects.

Antigen profiling has yet to be carried out in a clinical setting, according to Tanja A. Gruber, a pediatric oncologist at Stanford University who isn’t involved with the company. As such, “to classify tumors by antigen profiling is a shift in the paradigm,” she says in an email. Gruber says she welcomes this new approach as a complement to existing tumor diagnostics. She also envisions a future in which patients will receive a diagnosis on not only their cancer types but also the antigens their tumors express, allowing doctors to prescribe more personalized treatments for their disease.

Cartography says it has amassed datasets of antigens across every cell type in the human body for its goal of discovering new immuno-oncology targets. The company plans to soon characterize even more cells and their antigens by analyzing over a thousand more new patient samples.

Parker declines to comment on what kinds of cancers Cartography is going after, only that it will be looking at both liquid and solid tumors. The company, based in Foster City, California, is currently at around 30 people strong and plans to expand over the next 12 months.



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