A new biotech venture called Ensoma was launched just recently, in conjunction with a sizable $70 million Series A funding thanks to the development of intellectual property developed out of Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and University of Washington School of Medicine. More specifically, for a couple of decades now, Dr. Hans-Peter Kiem (Fred Hutch) and Dr. André Lieber (UW) have spent decades developing “Engenious” vectors developed to deliver gene therapies to patients, less the need for stem cell donation or intense and often disruptive pre-treatments such as chemotherapy. This novel IP can lead to a therapy targeting not only cancer but also autoimmune disorders and infectious diseases. Although a pure Seattle-based spinoff venture, the company is based in Boston, arguably the most intense biotech cluster in the world. Off to a great start investor Takeda, a multinational Japanese pharmaceutical company, not only puts in $10m of the total investment but also inks a strategic collaborative deal worth up to $1.25 billion with Ensoma. This venture was incubated out of the 5AM Ventures’ 4:59 Initiative.
This truly Seattle-based spinoff was made possible by the decades of work by two brilliant gentlemen, including Dr. Hans-Peter Kiem, who directs the Stem Cell and Gene Therapy Program at Seattle’s Fred Hutch. Professor André Lieber conducts research and teaches at UW’s Division of Medical Genetics. Both of these co-founders from Germany originally contributed advisory to the venture, with Kiem serving as a chief scientific and clinical advisor.
Dr. Kiem, an oncologist and world-renowned pioneer in gene-editing technologies, including stem cell and gene therapies, also serves as vice president of the American Society of Gene & Cell Therapy and chief scientific and clinical advisor for Ensoma; and Dr. Lieber, an accomplished academic researcher and professor of medicine, Division of Medical Genetics, UW School of Medicine, who has studied the biological and translational aspects of human adenoviruses for more than two decades.
What is the Intellectual Property (IP)
The Ensoma technology involves vectors that actually handle and distribute long stretches of genetic material pursuing myriad cell types from hematopoietic stem cells (from the bone marrow) to T cells, B cells and even myeloid cells that originate from the stem cells. In 2019, Professor Kiem presented at TEDx Seattle, delving into the science backing the intellectual property.
The venture is based on an exclusively licensed portfolio of technologies developed by the Fred Hutch lab of Dr. Kiem and the University lab of Dr. Lieber that enable in vivo genome engineering and gene therapy advances of HSCs for therapeutic use in blood diseases.
Investors include 5AM Ventures with participation from F-Prime Capital, Takeda Ventures, Viking Global Investors, Cormorant Asset Management, RIT Capital Partners, Symbiosis II, LLC, and Alexandria Venture Investments. In what is a somewhat common model now, this VC-created venture will be led by a VC or someone that has been part of the investor group. That is, Dr. Kush Parmar, a managing partner with 5AM Ventures, will serve the startup as the founding Chief Executive Officer.
VC Incubated Company
As mentioned above, a common model today is that a venture Capital group will incubate a biotech venture—identifying the appropriate technology and IP as well as founders and managers and put the entire deal together.
In this case, this new venture is the result of the 4.59 Initiative, a “company creation engine of 5AM Ventures.”
The Takeda Alliance
In addition to Takeda investing $10 million in the Series A financing, the Japanese company inked a deal with Ensoma in a strategic collaboration involving potential for upfront and preclinical research payments totaling $100 million as part of a drug development collaboration worth up to $1.25 billion.
Fred Hutch—Startup Factory
Spinout success: Other Fred Hutch spinouts include Juno Therapeutics and Adaptive Biotechnologies, while University of Washington research led to the launch of Icosavax, Neoleukin Therapeutics, Universal Cells, Cyrus Biotechnology and others.