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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Faraday Future Reveals Only 401 Pre-Orders For Its First Electric Car

David Shultz

David Shultz is a freelance writer who lives in Santa Barbara, California. His writing has appeared in The Atlantic, Outside and Nautilus, among other publications.

Faraday Future Reveals Only 401 Pre-Orders For Its First Electric Car
Courtesy of Faraday Future

Electric vehicle hopeful Faraday Future has had no shortage of drama—from alleged securities law violations to boardroom shake-ups—on its long and circuitous path to actually producing a car. And though the Gardena-based company looked to have turned a corner by recently announcing plans to launch its first vehicle later this year, Faraday’s quarterly earnings report this week revealed that demand for that car has underwhelmed—to say the least.

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Meet CropSafe, the Agtech Startup Helping Farmers Monitor Their Fields

David Shultz

David Shultz is a freelance writer who lives in Santa Barbara, California. His writing has appeared in The Atlantic, Outside and Nautilus, among other publications.

Meet CropSafe, the Agtech Startup Helping Farmers Monitor Their Fields
Courtesy of CropSafe.

This January, John McElhone moved to Santa Monica from, as he described it, “a tiny farm in the absolute middle of nowhere” in his native Northern Ireland, with the goal of growing the crop-monitoring tech startup he founded.

It looks like McElhone’s big move is beginning to pay off: His company, CropSafe, announced a $3 million seed funding round on Tuesday that will help it develop and scale its remote crop-monitoring capabilities for farmers. Venture firm Elefund led the round and was joined by investors Foundation Capital, Global Founders Capital, V1.VC and Great Oaks Capital, as well as angel investors Cory Levy, Josh Browder and Charlie Songhurst. The capital will go toward growing CropSafe’s six-person engineering team and building up its new U.S. headquarters in Santa Monica.

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Cedars Sinai Health Ventures’ Maureen Klewicki on How Tech Is Changing Health Care

Minnie Ingersoll
Minnie Ingersoll is a partner at TenOneTen and host of the LA Venture podcast. Prior to TenOneTen, Minnie was the COO and co-founder of $100M+, an online marketplace for used cars. Minnie started her career as an early product manager at Google. Minnie studied Computer Science at Stanford and has an MBA from HBS. She recently moved back to L.A. after 20+ years in the Bay Area and is excited to be a part of the growing tech ecosystem of Southern California. In her space time, Minnie surfs baby waves and raises baby people.
Maureen Klewicki
Image courtesy of Maureen Klewicki

On this episode of the LA Venture podcast, Cedars Sinai Health Ventures’ Maureen Klewicki talks about price transparency for health care, the labor shortage crisis and emerging payment models.

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