When tech billionaire Sean Parker launched the Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy in 2016, he had big plans for spurring collaboration across academic institutions and biotech companies. Since then, the institute has fostered projects on CAR T-cell therapies, the microbiome, tumor neoantigens, and more.
The Parker Institute is now launching a spin-off company, ArsenalBio, to further develop and commercialize some of the discoveries made by the institute’s scientists. The start-up, which made its public debut on Oct. 17 with $85 million in series A financing, plans to develop CRISPR gene-edited CAR T-cell therapies for blood and solid tumors.
Right now, the two commercial CAR T-cell therapies use viruses to add a single gene to patients’ T cells. That added gene allows the engineered T cells to kill cancerous B cells, but they also kill healthy B cells.
Installing additional genes could give the engineered cells molecular sensors to kill only cancerous cells—an approach pioneered by one of the start-up’s six academic cofounders, Kole Roybal from the University of California, San Francisco. Another cofounder, UCSF’s Alex Marson, has used a process called electroporation to get DNA and CRISPR gene editors into human T cells without viruses. ArsenalBio will use that method as well.
ArsenalBio CEO Ken Drazan says partnering with other drug companies will be a key part of his firm’s strategy. The start-up was quietly founded in 2018 with seed money from Sean Parker and the venture capital firm Westlake Village Biopartners—which also led the series A.