After tackling two major research challenges, the founders of Be Biopharma are ready to announce their official launch along with a $52 million funding round. They are intent upon using the body’s B cells to treat a range of diseases.
“We have an ambitious plan to be the company that knows how to make B cells and mirror them precisely and make them at scale,” Aleks Radovic-Moreno, Be Biopharma’s president and director, said in a phone interview.
B cells, which play a leading role in the body’s immune response, can be taken out, genetically programmed to help fight specific diseases and then put back in the body. The cells also can come from healthy donors.
The challenges involved being able to efficiently edit the cells and then make them in sufficient quantities, Radovic-Moreno said. “Those are the two big problems we have overcome.”
Founded this year, Be Biopharma is looking to hire people in research, engineering and manufacturing, as well as a full-time leadership team, said Radovic-Moreno, an entrepreneur in residence at Longwood Fund, a co-founder and investor in Be Biopharma. The startup’s CEO is David Steinberg, a general partner at Boston-based Longwood.
From there, the company hopes to begin developing therapeutics for use in people. Cancers and autoimmune diseases are potential targets, as are monogenic diseases like cystic fibrosis. B cells, for example, could replace the need for invasive bone marrow transplants, Radovic-Moreno said.
“If we can do that, it would change the lives of so many people. So, we’re trying to move that as fast as humanly possible,” said Radovic-Moreno, who declined to offer a specific timeline.
The path for B cells could be relatively quick, he said, based on the experience of T cells and stem cells, he said. B cell therapies, though, are expected to be safer and less toxic than those involving T cells.
Be Biopharma is drawing on research undertaken at the Seattle Children’s Research Institute by Dr. David Rawlings and Richard James. They are among the co-founders of the new company.
“B cells play a key role in combatting diseases by catalyzing humoral immunity – the arm of the immune system that manufactures large quantities of proteins to neutralize disease-causing pathogens and manipulate immune cell behavior,” Rawlings, director of the Center for Immunity and Immunotherapies at the Seattle institute, said in a statement. “Today, this powerful part of the immune system is only passively and/or indirectly addressed therapeutically. Our ambition is to advance the field by building a new class of engineered B cell medicines that will provide direct control over the power of humoral immunity and help transform the prognosis for patients who currently have limited treatment options.”
Picture: Feodora Chiosea, Getty Images