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Century buys a startup, raises funding in cell therapy expansion

Dive Brief:

  • Biotechnology company Century Therapeutics is expanding its autoimmune disease research with a pair of deals that will hand it $60 million in new funding and technology from a private startup it’s acquiring.
  • The funding comes from a private placement led by Bain Capital Life Sciences and will extend Century’s operating runway into 2026. A $35 million acquisition of Clade Therapeutics, meanwhile, will hand Century three preclinical programs and technology to better engineer stem cell-derived medicines.
  • The deals fit into Century’s plans to broaden its autoimmune disease work. The company is testing a natural killer cell therapy in certain blood cancers, and will begin a study of the treatment in lupus before June. Century is now aiming to pursue additional autoimmune disease indications.

Dive Insight:

Drugmakers are moving quickly to study whether cell therapy, already a proven treatment for certain blood cancers, can tamp down autoimmune conditions, too. Lupus, a chronic disease that can cause inflammation and pain across the body, is one of the industry’s top targets.

More than a dozen companies, Century among them, have cell therapies for lupus either in testing or set to soon begin testing. The development race was sparked by promising findings from a small study of so-called CAR-T therapy in people with lupus, which showed treatment could spur disease remission.

While CAR-T therapies are an enticing prospect, they come with challenges that could make their use more difficult in chronic diseases like lupus. Their side effects can be severe in some cases, and producing them is often complex and costly.

Century has been working on an “allogeneic,” or donor-derived, approach to cell therapy, rather than the personalized method used for current CAR-T therapies. Its lead candidate, CNTY-101, also uses natural killer cells rather than T cells, and is derived from induced, pluripotent stem cells.

Century has struggled to maintain its footing since it went public in 2021, and last year underwent a leadership change, staff cuts and a pipeline reorganization.

With the acquisition of Clade, Century will inherit a pipeline of “off-the-shelf” cell-based treatments. It’s getting the company for relatively cheap, too, agreeing to pay $35 million upfront and promising another $10 million in potential milestone payments. In August 2021, Clade raised $87 million in a Series A venture round.

“We believe this strategic expansion of CNTY-101 into additional autoimmune disease indications, coupled with the incorporation of multiple new next-generation assets into our pipeline, represents an important step forward in our goal to address significant unmet need for patients across these serious diseases,” said Brent Pfeiffenberger, CEO of Century, in a statement.

Century expects to have data from a Phase 1 trial evaluating CNTY-101 against non-Hodgkin lymphoma by the middle of the year, and preliminary results for the therapy in lupus by the end of the year. The company plans to ask regulators this year for permission to begin testing the drug in other autoimmune indications, but did not reveal which ones.

The $60 million private placement is expected to close April 15. Century will issue almost 16 million shares of common stock at a price of $3.78. Along with Bain, the placement was led by new investors Octagon Capital, Superstring Capital and Adage Capital Partners LP.

Existing investors also participated, including DAFNA Capital Management, Boxer Capital, Casdin Capital and Venrock Healthcare Capital Partners.