ImmPACT Bio Raises $111 Million to Advance Promising 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.

Image courtesy of ImmPACT Bio

When Sumant Ramachandra first stumbled upon oncology startup ImmPACT Bio, the Harvard Medical physician-turned-pharmaceutical executive was preparing to move his family to Los Angeles from Illinois, where he had worked as Baxter International’s president of pharmaceuticals. Though he had spent recent years running research and development arms and managing regulatory processes, Ramachandra’s background in immunology and oncology drew him to the company.

“It was a bit like coming home—and very humbling to see how far the field has gone from the time I was a researcher in the late 1990s to where it is today,” Ramachandra said.

Ramachandra joined Camarillo-based ImmPACT Bio as the company’s new president and CEO in November, at a time when the startup was drawing the attention of venture capital firms after showing promising early results in treating non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. That progress has now paid off: On Thursday, the company announced a $111 million Series B funding round led by venBio—a prolific investor in cell therapy and cancer treatments—as well as Foresite Capital and Decheng Capital. The new funding follows an $18 million Series A round that ImmPACT raised in 2020.

Sumant Ramachandra

ImmPACT Bio President and CEO Sumant Ramachandra.

Courtesy of ImmPACT Bio

The five-year-old firm is one of several creating promising cancer therapies known as CAR-T cell therapies, which use genetically-engineered T cells to identify and eliminate cancer cells. Large players in the biopharma world, including Santa Monica-based Kite Pharma and Thousand Oaks-based Amgen, are looking to treat a variety of diseases using CAR-T cell therapy.

But there are still problems with the technology. Current CAR-T cell treatments of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma struggle with antigen escape—which is when the immune cells on the tumor deplete, allowing it to grow or come back. A weakened immune system has trouble attacking cancers because they sometimes secrete molecules that suppress the immune system, and a number of patients end up relapsing after treatment.

The company’s CAR-T cell therapies aim to address those issues and more, by engineering a patient’s own cells to be able to bolster the immune system. A phase 1 clinical trial at UCLA is showing promising results: Seven out of eight patients, all of whom had undergone several other cancer treatments before being dosed, achieved complete remission.

“You're talking about a potential best in class,” Ramachandra said. “And a potential best in class therapy means maybe this can be taken to the centers that are currently not doing CAR-T cell therapy… Maybe there's a potential to make this more broadly applicable and available to patients.”

Though promising, technology will need to evolve for this process to scale. Genetically engineering a patient’s own cells and dosing them can take more than a week, which can be too long a wait for late-stage cancer patients who have already tried several other treatments. Other companies are working to create off-the-shelf CAR-T therapies using other peoples’ cells, which would allow cancer patients to get treated faster. But those therapies can also pose a danger to a cancer patient’s weakened immune system.

ImmPACT Bio will use the funding to move its headquarters to West Hills, in the western San Fernando Valley, and grow its team in manufacturing and research. The company also announced Sheila Gujrathi, a longtime biotech veteran who held leadership positions at Bristol Myers Squibb and Genentech, as the new chair of its board of directors.

“It's a really exciting period to be experiencing here,” Ramachandra said.

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Starships Were Meant To Fly: Astrolab's New Jeep-Sized Rover Gets a Lift from SpaceX

Lon Harris
Lon Harris is a contributor to dot.LA. His work has also appeared on ScreenJunkies, RottenTomatoes and Inside Streaming.
Starships Were Meant To Fly: Astrolab's New Jeep-Sized Rover Gets a Lift from SpaceX
Photo by Samson Amore

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Local Los Angeles-area startup Astrolab Inc. has designed a new lunar vehicle called FLEX, short for Flexible Logistics and Exploration Rover. About the size of a Jeep Wrangler, FLEX is designed to move cargo around the surface of the moon on assignment. It’s a bit larger than NASA’s Mars rovers, like Perseverance, but as it’s designed for transport and mobility rather than precision measurement, it can travel much faster, at speeds of up to 15 miles per hour across the lunar surface.

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Meet the Creator Economy’s Version of LinkedIn

Kristin Snyder

Kristin Snyder is dot.LA's 2022/23 Editorial Fellow. She previously interned with Tiger Oak Media and led the arts section for UCLA's Daily Bruin.

Meet the Creator Economy’s Version of LinkedIn

This is the web version of dot.LA’s daily newsletter. Sign up to get the latest news on Southern California’s tech, startup and venture capital scene.

LinkedIn hasn’t caught on with Gen Z—in fact, 96% rarely use their existing account.

Considering 25% of young people want to be full-time content creators and most influencers aren’t active on LinkedIn, traditional networking sites aren’t likely to meet these needs.

Enter CreatorLand.

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This Week in ‘Raises’: Total Network Services Gains $9M, Autio Secures $5.9M

Decerry Donato

Decerry Donato is a reporter at dot.LA. Prior to that, she was an editorial fellow at the company. Decerry received her bachelor's degree in literary journalism from the University of California, Irvine. She continues to write stories to inform the community about issues or events that take place in the L.A. area. On the weekends, she can be found hiking in the Angeles National forest or sifting through racks at your local thrift store.

This Week in ‘Raises’: Total Network Services Gains $9M, Autio Secures $5.9M
This Week in ‘Raises’:

It has been a slow week in funding, but a local decentralized computing network managed to land $9 million to accelerate deployment of its new product called Universal Communication Identifier (UCID™). Another local company that secured capital included Kevin Costner’s location-based audio storytelling platform and the funding will go toward expanding the app’s content library and expanding into additional regions in the United States.

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