Appia Bio Inks Mega Deal To Scale Cancer Therapies

Keerthi Vedantam

Keerthi Vedantam is a bioscience reporter at dot.LA. She cut her teeth covering everything from cloud computing to 5G in San Francisco and Seattle. Before she covered tech, Keerthi reported on tribal lands and congressional policy in Washington, D.C. Connect with her on Twitter, Clubhouse (@keerthivedantam) or Signal at 408-470-0776.

Appia Bio Inks Mega Deal To Scale Cancer Therapies

The next wave of cancer treatments uses the body's own immune system rather than chemotherapy or radiation to kill cancer cells. Treatments are being developed by two Southern California pharma companies.

Last week, one of the biggest players in cell therapy, Kite Pharma, announced it will work with the cancer startup Appia Bio to create breakthrough drugs.


Under the agreement, Westwood-based Appia Bio (which came out of stealth in May) and Kite Pharma will develop CAR-T cell therapies, a promising new treatment that aims to eliminate cancer cells and strengthen the immune system's response to flag and fight these cells in the future. The deal could be worth up to $875 million for Appia Bio, according to the two companies.

The deal highlights a growing, collaborative ecosystem in Los Angeles reminiscent of the biotech community in San Diego. Pharma giant Gilead Sciences announced in 2017 it would acquire Kite Pharma in a nearly $12 billion deal, pointing to a growing interest in Los Angeles' bioscience community made up of university-to-startup pipelines like Appia, which has founders from UCLA, USC and CalTech.

Appia Bio will be responsible for doing preclinical and early clinical research of engineered cells provided by Kite, and Kite Pharma will be responsible for developing, manufacturing and commercializing the therapies.

Unlike most cell therapies that come from cells of the patient, known as autologous cell therapy, Appia Bio will use the cells of other people, known as allogeneic cell therapy. The company's patented technology, ACUA, uses allogeneic cells to generate iNKT cells, which may be less likely to be rejected by the patient's immune system.

"We hope to provide allogeneic cell therapy as a broadly accessible next-generation therapeutic option for oncologists and their patients," said Appia Bio CEO JJ Kang in an email.

Appia Bio hopes this will create safe therapies at scale, allowing doctors to start treatment almost immediately instead of making late-stage cancer patients wait long time periods as their cells are engineered.

Kang said they partnered with Kite because it already had manufacturing facilities as well as an infrastructure for development and research.

This isn't Kite Pharma's first foray into CAR-T cell therapies. The FDA approved one of the pharma company's CAR-T treatments for a type of lymphoma cancer in 2017, and another was approved for what's known as mantle cell lymphoma cancer last year.

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Genies Wants To Help Creators Build ‘Avatar Ecosystems’

Christian Hetrick

Christian Hetrick is dot.LA's Entertainment Tech Reporter. He was formerly a business reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer and reported on New Jersey politics for the Observer and the Press of Atlantic City.

Genies Wants To Help Creators Build ‘Avatar Ecosystems’

When avatar startup Genies raised $150 million in April, the company released an unusual message to the public: “Farewell.”

The Marina del Rey-based unicorn, which makes cartoon-like avatars for celebrities and aims to “build an avatar for every single person on Earth,” didn’t go under. Rather, Genies announced it would stay quiet for a while to focus on building avatar-creation products.

Genies representatives told dot.LA that the firm is now seeking more creators to try its creation tools for 3D avatars, digital fashion items and virtual experiences. On Thursday, the startup launched a three-week program called DIY Collective, which will mentor and financially support up-and-coming creatives.

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Here's What To Expect At LA Tech Week

Christian Hetrick

Christian Hetrick is dot.LA's Entertainment Tech Reporter. He was formerly a business reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer and reported on New Jersey politics for the Observer and the Press of Atlantic City.

Here's What To Expect At LA Tech Week

LA Tech Week—a weeklong showcase of the region’s growing startup ecosystem—is coming this August.

The seven-day series of events, from Aug. 15 through Aug. 21, is a chance for the Los Angeles startup community to network, share insights and pitch themselves to investors. It comes a year after hundreds of people gathered for a similar event that allowed the L.A. tech community—often in the shadow of Silicon Valley—to flex its muscles.

From fireside chats with prominent founders to a panel on aerospace, here are some highlights from the roughly 30 events happening during LA Tech Week, including one hosted by dot.LA.

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PCH Driven: Director Jason Wise Talks Wine, Documentaries, and His New Indie Streaming Service SOMMTV

Jamie Williams
­Jamie Williams is the host of the “PCH Driven” podcast, a show about Southern California entrepreneurs, innovators and its driven leaders on their road to success. The series celebrates and reveals the wonders of the human spirit and explores the motivations behind what drives us.
Jason Wise holding wine glass
Image courtesy of Jason Wise

Jason Wise may still consider himself a little kid, but the 33-year-old filmmaker is building an IMDB page that rivals colleagues twice his age.

As the director behind SOMM, SOMM2, SOMM3, and the upcoming SOMM4, Wise has made a career producing award-winning documentary films that peer deep into the wine industry in Southern California and around the world.

On this episode of the PCH Driven podcast, he talks about life growing up in Cleveland as a horrible student, filmmaking, Los Angeles and his latest entrepreneurial endeavor: A streaming service called SOMMTV that features–what else?–documentaries about wine.

The conversation covers some serious ground, but the themes of wine and film work to anchor the discussion, and Wise dispenses bits of sage filmmaking advice.

“With a documentary you can just start filming right now,” he says. “That’s how SOMM came about. I got tossed into that world during the frustration of trying to make a different film, and I just started filming it, because no one could stop me because I was paying for it myself. That’s the thing with docs,” or “The good thing about SOMM is that you can explain it in one sentence: ‘The hardest test in the world is about wine, and you’ve never heard about it.’”

…Or at least maybe you hadn’t before he made his first film. Now with three SOMM documentaries under his belt, Wise is nearing completion of “SOMM4: Cup of Salvation,” which examines the history of wine’s relationship with religion. Wise says it’s “a wild film,” that spans multiple countries, the Vatican and even an active warzone. As he puts it, the idea is to show that “wine is about every subject,” rather than “every subject is about wine.”

For Wise, the transition to launching his own streaming service came out of his frustration with existing platforms holding too much power over the value of the content he produces.

“Do we want Netflix to tell us what our projects are worth or do we want the audience to do that?” he asks.

But unlike giants in the space, SOMMTV has adopted a gradual approach of just adding small bits of content as they develop. Without the need to license 500 or 1,000 hours of programming, Wise has been able to basically bootstrap SOMMTV and provide short form content and other more experimental offerings that typically get passed over by the Hulus and Disneys of the world.

So far, he says, the experiment is working, and now Wise is looking to raise some serious capital to keep up with the voracious appetites of his subscribers.

“Send those VCs my way,” Wise jokes.

Subscribe to PCH Driven on Apple, Stitcher, Spotify, iHeart, Google or wherever you get your podcasts.

dot.LA reporter David Shultz contributed to this report.

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