CARISMA Therapeutics Raises $47 Million to Advance CAR-M Program Into the Clinic

Philadelphia-based CARISMA Therapeutics Inc. secured $47 million in a Series B financing round that will be used to advance the development of the company’s novel chimeric antigen receptor macrophages (CAR-M) immunotherapies.

The latest financing, combined with $53 million raised in a 2018 Series A, brings the company’s finances to $109 million. CARISMA said the finances will be used to advance its lead candidate and discovery platforms. CARISMA’s lead candidate is CT-0508, an anti-human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2) targeted chimeric antigen receptor macrophage (CAR-M).

CARISMA recently initiated enrollment of its Phase I study of CT-0508. To date, the company said the asset has already demonstrated the potential of the companies CAR-M platform. The CAR-M platform aims to address challenges encountered by other cell therapies like CAR-T programs in treating solid tumors. Those challenges include limitations to the tumor site, immunosuppressive tumor microenvironments, and the heterogeneous expression of tumor-associated antigens. A recent paper published by the company, “Human Chimeric Antigen Receptor Macrophages for Cancer Immunotherapy,” suggests that CAR-M therapy could overcome the challenges found in other cell therapies.

Macrophages are cells that play a crucial role in both the innate and adaptive immune response. CARISMA’s proprietary CAR-Macrophage platform is the first technology to combine antigen recognition with the effector function of macrophages. The platform is based on technology developed in the lab of co-founder Saar Gill at the Center for Cellular Immunotherapies at the University of Pennsylvania.

The Phase I study will assess the asset in patients with recurrent or metastatic HER2 overexpressing solid tumors after failure of approved HER2 targeted agents.

With CT-0508 entering clinical studies, Steven Kelly, President, and Chief Executive Officer of CARISMA, said the company is at a key inflection point. Kelly said the additional funding from the Series B will allow the company to unlock the power of engineered macrophages.

Michael Klichinsky, co-inventor of the CAR-M technology and head of Discovery at CARISMA, said the Phase I study will be the first time an engineered macrophage will be entering the clinic. He said it’s exciting the company will see the CAR-M technology’s clinical potential after years of investigation.

In November 2020, the company announced new preclinical findings that showed the power of the CAR-M technology. Not only did CARISMA’s CAR-M program directly shrink tumors, but it also reprogramed the tumor microenvironment and induced long-term T cell-mediated anti-tumor immunity. The new preclinical data also showed the combination of CAR-M with anti-PD1 therapy further enhanced tumor control and overall survival, the company said during a presentation at The Society for Immunotherapy of Cancer.

The Series B financing round was led by Symbiosis II, LLC. New investors that participated include Solasta Ventures and Livzon Pharmaceutical Group. Existing investors, including AbbVie Ventures, HealthCap, Wellington Partners, IP Group, TPG Biotech, Agent Capital, and MRL Ventures Fund, also participated in the Series B.

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Alex Keown is a freelance journalist who writes about a variety of subjects including the pharma, biotech, and life science industries. Prior to freelancing, Alex has served as a staff writer and editor for several publications.