A new generation of cancer immunotherapies are emerging and attracting high-dollar investments from leading venture and corporate players. Here we explore 19 private cancer startups working on therapies that go beyond the traditional treatments, from personalized vaccines to immune-stimulating gut microbes.
Cancer immunotherapies — which engineer the body’s immune system to fight the disease — have been dominating the conversation about cancer over the last 5 years. This is evident by the overall increases in equity funding and high-profile exits in the space.
Celgene’s recent $9B acquisition of Chimeric Antigen Receptor T-Cell (CAR-T) developer Juno Therapeutics is just one indication that this space is still heating up as investors look to discover the next big cancer immunotherapy player.
While cancer immunotherapies have been around for some time, new iterations are starting to emerge, along with new mechanisms to target cancer cells.
Startups developing personalized cancer vaccines, such as Moderna Therapeutics and Gritstone Oncology, represent some of the most well-funded startups in the space. Their vaccines target each patient’s tumor-specific proteins (neoantigens) to create a more precise treatment.
Meanwhile, Versant Ventures’ recent investments in Quentis Therapeutics and Tempest Therapeutics indicate a growing interest in uncovering new cellular and molecular targets to enhance immune responses to cancer.
Below, we tracked how often public companies mention “immunotherapy,” “CAR-T,” “checkpoint inhibitor,” and “cancer vaccine” using the CB Insights Earning Transcripts tool. These key terms have seen overall increases since 2013.
Most notable is the steep increase of CAR-T mentions in 2017, as last year saw key FDA drug approvals (e.g. Kite Pharma’s Yescarta) and acquisitions (e.g. Cell Design Labs by Gilead Sciences/Kite Pharma).
We used the CB Insights platform to identify 19 of the most notable startups in the cancer immunotherapy space. We selected these companies based on the recency and size of their disclosed funding, investor quality, and their respective therapeutic approaches.
Cancer immunotherapy companies to watch
As of 3/22/18.