Financial Times | Michael Peel 15 Nov 2023
T-Therapeutics hopes to use genetically engineered rodents and machine learning to discover drugs.
A new venture, led by the founder of a biotech group that was sold to Sanofi for up to $1.45bn in 2021, has won £48mn in funding for research into cancer treatments using machine learning and genetically engineered mouse technology.
Allan Bradley’s T-Therapeutics, a Cambridge university spin-off, is set to unveil the first-round investment led by Sofinnova Partners, F-Prime Capital, Digitalis Ventures and Cambridge Innovation Capital on Wednesday.
The venture is part of a push in the pharmaceuticals industry to harness T-cell receptor (TCR) technology to target proteins associated with cancer, as well as other conditions. T-cells are a type of white blood cell that play a disease-fighting role in the human immune system.
“We are at the dawn of a new age of therapeutics,” Bradley, who was until recently a Cambridge university professor, told the Financial Times. “TCR technology can target any cell in your body that you want to get rid of or control.”
T-Therapeutics plans to use the investment to develop new drugs to combat cancer, as well as inflammatory disorders caused by the body’s immune system attacking healthy tissues. Other investors in the company are Sanofi Ventures and the Cambridge university’s venture fund.
The start-up is focusing on ways to detect cancers and attack them with the patient’s own T-cells — which Bradley said were the body’s “professional killers”. It aims to improve on existing TCR therapies by targeting a wider range of tumours with fewer side effects.
The combination of mice and machine learning is crucial to T-Therapeutics’ operation. The company will experiment with T-cell receptors derived from mice that have been spliced with human DNA, to create a genetically engineered creature called OpTiMus. “It’s been a long journey to engineer a mouse that has the capability to generate a repertoire of [human] T-cell receptors,” Bradley said. “It’s probably the most engineered mouse in the world.”
T-Therapeutics is the latest commercial venture by geneticist Bradley, who is a former director of the Wellcome Sanger Institute, the UK’s largest genomic sequencing centre.
Kymab, the company Sanofi bought in 2021, has worked to develop drugs to treat the skin condition eczema. Bradley also previously founded two companies in the US: a biopharmaceuticals venture and PetMedix, a veterinary medicines business acquired in September by Zoetis, the world’s largest animal health company.
The use of TCR technology to target tumours is an area of growing corporate interest. Moderna of the US unveiled an agreement in September with Germany’s Immatics to develop cancer vaccines and therapies. Moderna said it would pay Immatics $120mn initially and a potential total of more than $1.7bn if the company were to hit development, regulatory and commercialisation milestones.
Other start-ups specialising in T-cell technology have attracted attention from big drug companies. AstraZeneca reached a deal in June to partner with Quell Therapeutics and develop treatments against autoimmune diseases, agreeing to pay it $85mn up front and up to $2bn more subject to targets being reached.
Quell is focusing on type-1 diabetes and inflammatory bowel disease, as well as a cell therapy to prevent liver transplants being rejected.