A British biotech startup founded less than three years ago to treat disease by manipulating the human immune system has raised $ 156 million in an oversubscribed Series B cycle.
The latest funding brings the total invested in Quell Therapeutics since 2019 to $ 218 million. Six immunology specialists from King’s College London, University College London and the University of Hanover formed the company to develop Car-T therapy, which rearranges a patient’s immune cells to fight disease and has been used successfully to treat certain cancers.
Quell’s first product, designed to prevent rejection of liver transplants, is expected to begin a clinical trial with 18 patients early in the new year.
The process involves removing the patient’s “regulatory T cells” or Tregs – the white blood cells that dampen overriding immune responses – by making three genetic changes in the lab and injecting them back into the bloodstream.
The modified Tregs recognize specific proteins on the donor organ and protect it from immune attacks. They are only intended to act locally around the liver, allowing doctors to wean transplant patients from conventional immunosuppressive drugs, which affect the entire immune system and cause serious side effects.
The process contrasts with the use of Car-T therapy in oncology, which designs a different type of T cell to target cancer cells for destruction.
Further down, Quell researchers hope to use Tregs to treat autoimmune diseases – starting with type 1 diabetes – and brain diseases such as ALS. For diabetes, the goal is to make Tregs that protect the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas from a dysfunctional autoimmune reaction that would otherwise destroy them.
While the Tregs used to suppress transplant rejection are “autologous” – processed from the patient’s own cells – Quell aims to treat autoimmune diseases with allogeneic cells from external donors, which would dramatically reduce the costs, said CEO Iain McGill.
Syncona, a London-based life sciences investment firm specializing in cell and gene therapy start-ups, led the founding of Quell in 2019. She was co-leader of Series B, at the alongside Jeito Capital, Ridgeback Capital Investments, SV Health Investisseurs and Fidelity Management & Research.
The main shareholder remains Syncona, which owns 37% of Quell. He values his stake at £ 74m, which implies a total valuation of £ 200m for the start-up.
In total, Quell has a dozen institutional shareholders. A newcomer is British Patient Capital, the state-backed investment group, which is participating in Series B through the new Future Fund: Breakthrough scheme – its first biotech company.
Although Quell has a science outpost in Boston, “we are a committed British company,” McGill said. “When we created Quell, we wanted to start building great biotechnology in the UK and for the foreseeable future our main business, including manufacturing, will be in the UK. “
The company will process the relatively low volumes of Tregs initially required for clinical trials in the advanced medical therapy manufacturing suite at Guy’s Hospital in London. He later plans to use more extensive facilities at the Cell and Gene Therapy Catapult at Stevenage.
Several biotech companies are working on other applications of Tregs, including California-based Sangamo Therapeutics, which is starting a small clinical trial in kidney transplant patients. But McGill said he was convinced his company was poised to play a leading role in an important new area of medicine: suppressing unwanted immune responses.