Versant Ventures has made a $50 million Series A commitment to Cimeio, which is the most recent start-up to emerge from the firm’s Ridgeline Discovery Engine in Basel, Switzerland.
Cimeio’s platform has the potential to transform the treatment of patients with rare genetic diseases, hematologic malignancies and autoimmune disorders. The company’s initial focus is on a novel approach to hematopoietic stem cell (HSC) transplants and adoptive cell therapy (ACT).
HSC transplants are the only curative treatments for certain debilitating and life-threatening diseases, but many patients are ineligible due to the intensive chemotherapy and radiation conditioning required. While targeted therapeutics have recently emerged as alternatives to harsh conditioning agents, these have fallen short due to the absence of sufficiently selective targets. Furthermore, there are few options for salvaging unsuccessful transplants or for dealing with residual or recurring disease.
Cimeio seeks to transform HSC transplant and ACT eligibility and outcomes with its cell-shielding technology and precisely paired immunotherapies. The company’s proprietary immunotherapies deplete diseased cells, while its cell-shielding technology protects healthy transplanted cells and allows them to engraft. Because the transplanted cells are shielded, the immunotherapy can continue to be safely administered post-transplant to boost engraftment or to treat minimal residual disease.
“Our Shielded-Cell & Immunotherapy Pairs represent a fundamentally new approach to cellular therapy,” said Cimeio CEO Thomas Fuchs. “We believe our technology platform has the potential to significantly improve HSC transplant, and will one day allow it to be given as an outpatient procedure in some circumstances.”
“Making cell therapies effective and practical for large numbers of patients is an important element of Versant’s company creation activities, and we are confident that Cimeio is well-positioned to use its powerful platform to generate a pipeline of cellular and paired immunotherapy candidates for a range of diseases,” added Alex Mayweg, Ph.D., Managing Director at Versant and a Cimeio board member.
Cimeio Technology Platform
Cimeio’s shielding technology was discovered and developed in the labs of founder Lukas Jeker, M.D., Ph.D., Professor at the Department of Biomedicine, University of Basel, Head of Experimental Transplantation Immunology & Nephrology at the Basel University Hospital, and Senior Vice President of Gene Editing at Cimeio.
“We were able to specifically edit a cell surface receptor in a way that completely prevented antibody binding while keeping the receptor functional. This type of epitope editing could allow the shielding of any cell surface receptor, which gives our technology much broader application than removing a target entirely,” said Dr. Jeker.
Cimeio uses gene editing tools to insert novel protein variants into HSCs or other types of cells, allowing the cells to maintain their function while making them resistant to depletion by the paired immunotherapy. Cimeio’s platform has effectively shielded cells from depletion mediated by antibodies, T-cell engagers, ADCs, and CAR-T cells in preclinical studies. The company is advancing its first programs towards clinical development in 2023.
Leadership and Operating Plans
Cimeio has built a leadership team of disease area and cell therapy veterans, and has assembled a scientific advisory board of gene editing and HSC transplant experts. Cimeio is located in Boston, MA, and Basel, Switzerland, and is rapidly expanding its research and CMC teams to advance its three lead programs and expand its portfolio. Cimeio also has active research collaborations with Dr. Jeker’s lab, with Matt Porteus, M.D., Ph.D., at Stanford University, and with Dr. Cathomen’s research group.