Flagship cancer startup Torque gets $25M, Rhythm founder as CEO

November 14, 2017

Flagship Pioneering has launched its latest biotech, Torque, as it hopes to power through using a new class of “deep-primed” immune cell therapies in cancer.

The preclinical company started off with $25 million from its VC, 30 employees and digs in Kendall Square, Cambridge, Massachusetts, in order “to be close to co-founder Darrell Irvine’s lab at MIT, the company’s founding investor Flagship Pioneering, and also potential future partners,” the company told FierceBiotech.

Torque comes out of stealth (it was established in 2015) with a platform to develop a new class of so-called deep-primed immune cell therapies, with its early-stage pipeline targeting immune regulation in the tumor microenvironment.

Torque said that it designed the deep-priming tech to “stimulate and activate” the immune response against cancer cells in the local tumor microenvironment, expanding/amplifying the immune response by enlisting and activating other immune cells around the tumor.

“This approach mimics signaling mechanisms naturally employed by the immune system to focus and direct a deep immune response,” the company said.

“No other companies are using Torque’s approach of anchoring immunomodulators directly to living immune cells so they will be carried to the tumor site where they can be stimulated to activate an immune response and expand in the local tumor microenvironment, with a high margin of safety.” It says the tech is “universal” and can be applied to “all immune cell therapies”.

Its lead product candidate is Deep IL-15 for both blood cancers and solid tumors, which should enter the clinic next year.

And it’s got biopharma vets to help steer it through its IND-enabling tests and beyond, in the forms of co-founder Bart Henderson as its CEO, and formerly president and founder of 2016 Fierce 15 winner Rhythm, a rare disease biotech focusing on genetic obesity disorders. He also helped found Radius.

Alongside Henderson, Ulrik Nielsen (founder of Merrimack), Irvine, and Thomas Andresen, Professor and group leader of the Colloids and Biological Interfaces group at DTU Nanotech, are co-founders.

Torque has also called on a Big Pharma vet as its chief medical officer in the form of Becker Hewes, M.D. Hewes was most recently executive medical director at Novartis’ Institute for Biomedical Research, and has also undertaken stints at within oncology clinical development at both Genzyme and AstraZeneca.

The company said that Henderson joined Torque full-time “to help take the company into the next stage,” with near-term milestones next year: filing the company’s first IND and initiating the first clinical trials; broadening the pipeline to identify new clinical candidates that target innate immunity; and establishing partnerships.

This comes three months after the Boston Business Journal picked up Torque’s raise via a SEC filing.

By Ben Adams

Source: Fierce Biotech