Senti Bio, hot off $645M Spark pact, tees up in-house manufacturing for natural killer cell therapies

Freshly equipped with a $105 million series B and a more than half-a-billion pact with Roche's gene therapy unit, Senti Biosciences is taking control of its manufacturing destiny. 

Bayer-backed Senti Bio is dropping an undisclosed sum to lease and build out a manufacturing facility all on its own. Advancing a pair of allogeneic chimeric antigen receptor natural killer (CAR-NK) cells, the company will first use the plant for clinical manufacturing of its prospects in acute myeloid leukemia (AML) and hepatocellular carcinoma, Senti said in a release.

Should the company's "off-the-shelf" cell therapies pass muster with regulators, Senti eventually aims to use the factory for commercial production, too.

Internal manufacturing will prove essential in Senti's quest to maintain control "over the quality and supply" of both its current and future CAR-NK candidates, the company said.

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The lease covers a 92,000 square-foot facility in Alameda, California, close to the company's headquarters and R&D center in South San Francisco. The Fierce 15 winner plans to kit out the facility as an "end-to-end manufacturing solution," which will allow the biotech to isolate natural killer (NK) cells, engineer them with the company's gene circuits, perform cell culture expansion in large batches and cryopreserve and store the final products, Senti said. 

The idea is to manufacture the allogeneic CAR-NKs, which are made from healthy donor cells, ahead of clinical use, and to then store them in frozen vials for speedy, "off-the-shelf" delivery to patients, Philip Lee, Ph.D., chief technology officer and co-founder of Senti Bio, said in a statement.

Senti Bio's approach leverages "gene circuits," essentially used to tweak a cell's genetic code to address disease severity and limit side effects. Senti's treatments are designed to sense and adapt to their environment. They aim to avoid the safety and efficacy pitfalls of their cell and gene predecessors.

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That tactic earned Senti a spot on Fierce Biotech's Fierce 15 rankings back in 2018, plus some serious financial interest from pharma majors like Bayer, Amgen and Roche. 

In January, Leaps by Bayer led Senti's beefy $105 million series B, which also included contributions from Amgen's VC arm, Mirae Asset Capital, Ridgeback Capital and more. Just a few months after that, Roche's gene therapy unit Spark Therapeutics inked a $645 million-plus biobucks pact with Senti to leverage its gene circuit tech in the development of next-generation gene therapies.

Under the deal, Senti is on deck to design, build and test cell type- and disease specific-synthetic promoters for use in certain central nervous system-, ocular- or liver-directed gene therapies. Spark will be in charge of preclinical, clinical and sales work for any gene therapy candidates that use Senti's licensed synthetic promoters.

Editor's note: This story was updated to correct an error about Senti's deal with Spark.