BrainChild Bio will rent space in the Seattle Children’s building Building Cure. The structure opened in downtown Seattle in 2019. The startup will occupy part of the 10th floor, which is also home to Seattle Children’s Therapeutics. (Seattle Children’s Photo)

Seattle Children’s is spinning out BrainChild Bio, a biotech startup tackling cancer in the central nervous system with an initial focus on treatments for children.

The clinical-stage company is launching from Seattle Children’s Therapeutics, an innovation hub within the pediatric hospital. Dr. Michael Jensen is leaving his role as vice president of the hub to become the founder and chief scientific officer of BrainChild Bio. The startup has an exclusive license to use novel CAR T-cell technology developed by Jensen and his team.

“It’s going to really focus on revolutionizing cancer [treatment] in the central nervous system,” Jensen said.

The approach uses chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T-cell immunotherapy, which genetically reprograms patients’ immune cells to kill cancerous cells. The CAR T-cells act like a “cellular-size scalpel,” Jensen said, to metaphorically cut out the disease.

The startup is initially targeting diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma (DIPG), a rare and incurable cancer that strikes the brain stem. Following a diagnosis, patients typically live 12 to 16 months, and are only able to receive radiation as a palliative therapy. About 600 U.S. kids are diagnosed with DIPG annually and there are an estimated 10,000 cases globally.

Dr. Michael Jensen, founder and chief scientific officer of BrainChild Bio. (Seattle Children’s Photo)

Jensen and his team at Seattle Children’s Therapeutics have conducted four clinical trials using CAR T-cell therapies targeting pediatric central nervous system tumors in about 100 patients. A subset of those are DIPG cases.

Data on the treatment’s effectiveness will be shared at a scientific forum next year, but preliminary results are promising, Jensen said. The therapy is delivered directly into the central nervous system, bypassing the blood-brain barrier that can block other treatments. And patients can be dosed repeatedly, ensuring that CAR T-cells wage a sustained assault on tumors.

The new venture is receiving an undisclosed amount of funding from Seattle Children’s that should provide two years of runway, Jensen said.

“With our clinical trials and our academic programs, we can treat and help dozens or tens of dozens of patients,” Jensen said. “But without a commercial enterprise to make this scalable and sustainable over time, we’re not going to have the impact that is possible by having these these transformative medicines.”

The startup will rent space from the pediatric hospital inside its Building Cure in downtown Seattle. It will occupy the 10th floor of the building — which also houses Seattle Children’s Therapeutics. BrainChild Bio will take with it about 18 people research and development employees from Seattle Children’s Therapeutics, which will continue working on childhood leukemia, lupus and other diseases.

Jensen has worked three decades as a physician-scientist, leading Seattle Children’s Therapeutics’ R&D team for the last 13 years. He is also a co-founder of Seattle’s Umoja Biopharma and Juno Therapeutics, which was bought by Bristol Myers Squibb and is now producing CAR T-cell therapy used commercially to treat lymphoma in adults.

Steven Brugger will join BrainChild Bio as CEO. His experience in pharmaceuticals spans 40 years, most recently as CEO of Affinivax, a vaccine company acquired last year by GSK for $3.3 billion.

Building Cure, a space owned by Seattle Children’s and home to the biotech startup BrainChild Bio. (Seattle Children’s Photo)

In March 2022, Seattle Children’s Therapeutics announced a partnership with Cellevolve Bio, a development and commercialization company in San Francisco, to advance three clinical trials for central nervous system cancers in children. In May of this year, Seattle Children’s launched a fourth study focused on CAR T-cell treatments for pediatric DIPG patients.

When asked about the collaboration, Jensen said, “there is no relationship established between Cellevolve and BrainChild Bio.” On its website, Cellevolve does not list Seattle Children’s as a partner.

Jensen hopes BrainChild Bio can move quickly to commercialization. Brain stem gliomas are rare and BrainChild could request and receive designations for its treatment both as an orphan drug and as a breakthrough therapy. The designations can expedite the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval process as well as provide financial incentives including tax breaks and a seven-year period of market exclusivity for the drug.

While BrainChild Bio is initially is initially focusing on DIPG, it plans to ultimately expand to other pediatric and adult brain tumors, including glioblastoma and brain metastases.

About 150,000 Americans are diagnosed each year with cancer that has metastasized to the brain, Jensen said, which is typically fatal.

Source: Geek Wire

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