- Seattle Children's Hospital is spinning out a biotechnology startup named BrainChild Bio to develop new cancer drugs for central nervous system tumors, the hospital announced Tuesday.
- The company is licensing CAR-T technology from Seattle Children's, and has also received equity funding from the health care provider. Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.
- BrainChild’s first target is pediatric brain tumors. The company’s work will build on prior clinical testing at Seattle Children’s, and its lead CAR-T cell therapy has been evaluated in nearly 100 children to date, said Michael Jensen, its founder.
CAR-T cell therapy involves the genetic engineering of a person’s own immune cells, which are modified in a laboratory and then reinfused to attack certain cancers. It has come of age over the past decade as a way to treat people whose cancer has progressed after several previous lines of therapy. The leading companies in the field are large pharmaceutical companies like Novartis, Gilead, Johnson & Johnson and Bristol Myers Squibb.
While a small startup, BrainChild is far along for a company just emerging from stealth. Its work predates its launch by half a decade — Seattle Children’s Research Institute announced the BrainChild initiative to target terminal brain cancer in kids in 2018. The hospital’s initial trials studied how a more potent cancer therapy could treat pediatric diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma, an aggressive tumor in the brainstem that accounts for an estimated 10% of childhood CNS tumors.
Results from previous testing will be presented at a scientific meeting next year, BrainChild said.
The company, which was built from Jensen’s research at Seattle Children’s, plans to hire about 20 employees, many of whom worked in Jensen’s lab at Seattle Children’s. It will continue to partner with the hospital for its clinical, regulatory and manufacturing expertise, the company said.
If the company can prove the safety and efficacy of its CAR-T therapies, it’s planning to pursue an accelerated approval as well as clinical trials targeting adult glioblastoma and brain metastases, said Steve Brugger, BrainChild’s CEO.
Brugger is best known for co-founding and leading vaccine biotech Affinivax to a $3.3 billion acquisition by GSK in 2022. With Affinivax, Brugger helped build the startup from Boston Children’s Hospital with additional funding from the Gates Foundation. He is now doing something similar with BrainChild, albeit with “less conventional initial funding.”
“We decided it is best to launch with the funding only from Seattle Children’s — an investor who is 100% aligned with our mission to be a kids-first CAR-T company for CNS cancers,” Brugger wrote in an email. “We will continue to explore other financing and non-dilutive funding options as we move forward.”
The launch comes amid new scrutiny into CAR-T therapy’s safety. Last week, the Food and Drug Administration said it was investigating a potential cancer risk linked to CAR-T therapy after receiving reports about so-called T cell malignancies.
“Given that tens of thousands of patients have been treated to date, the incidence of this complication appears to be extremely low, lower than the risk of secondary cancers that arise after radiation and chemotherapy,” Jensen said. “The clear signal is the benefit to patients of CAR-T therapy greatly outweighs this particular risk.”