Newly launched biotech banks CHF46 million

Versant Ventures and its Ridgeline Discovery Engine have teamed up with researchers from the University of Basel to co-found Cimeio Therapeutics AG with a Series A commitment of USD 50 million (CHF 46 million).

Cimeio Therapeutics is an applied gene editing, cellular, and immunotherapy company dedicated to making the replacement of the immune system a gentler process. Its proprietary technology platform is based on the discovery of variants, which when inserted into cells allow them to maintain full function while resisting paired immunotherapy depletion. The startup uses the platform to develop a portfolio of Shielded-Cell and Immunotherapy Pairs for patients with severe and life-threatening diseases such as leukaemia or multiple sclerosis (MS).

The technology addresses some of the most pressing challenges in cell therapy. Usually, diseased cells multiply uncontrollably after receiving blood stem cells from a donor, and for MS, they attack the insulating covers of the patient’s nerve cells. For the body to accept the new immune system, the patient’s blood stem cells must be eliminated using radiotherapy or chemotherapy before the actual therapy begins. Running this tedious process depends on the therapy’s success likelihood, and it can only be performed on strong, healthy patients. In stem cell transplantation, the treatment cannot be continued in order to keep any potentially remaining diseased cells under control – a renewed course of treatment would also attack the new immune system.

The research group, comprising Lukas Jeker, Rosalba Lepore and Romina Matter-Marone, led by Professor Torsten Schwede – who uses computer models to analyse protein structures – developed a strategy to design protein variants that allow donor cells to be distinguished from recipient cells. To make the donor blood stem cells identifiable, the team uses the CRISPR-Cas9 genetic scissors to specifically modify one or two building blocks of the genetic material in the cells. The technology opens up alternatives to the intensive chemotherapy and radiotherapy currently used to prepare for transplantation.

“Until now, the body’s own immune cells were so similar to the donated cells that we couldn’t distinguish between them in patients’ bodies,” explains Jeker. It was thus impossible to eliminate one when required without also attacking the other. “Our approach labels the donor immune cells without interfering with their functionality,” explains Rosalba Lepore. The principle of labelling could also apply to areas, for instance, as an emergency brake for immunotherapies against cancer. “If the side effects are too severe, you can selectively bring the donor immune cells to a halt,” says Romina Matter-Marone.

Besides the kick-off series A capital from Versant Ventures, the spinoff has benefited from the support of the Unitectra technology transfer platform of the Universities of Basel, Bern and Zurich, from the Innovation Office of the University of Basel and from the BaseLaunch startup accelerator, and an ERC grant. The startup is now progressing into the next phase to bring its research findings into clinical practice.

(Press release/RAN)
Photo L-R: Rosalba Lepore, Lukas Jeker und Romina Matter-Marone by Universität Basel, Florian Moritz