Business / Entrepreneurs / Finance / Funding

Philly life science orgs see leadership changes, strong funding to kick off 2021

We've spotted news in the first few days of the new year for Ben Franklin Technology Partners, TELA Bio, Aro Biotherapeutics and Carisma Therapeutics.

Life sciences. (Photo by the University of Michigan, used under a Creative Commons License)
Update: More details about Carisma Therapeutics' Series B have been added. (1/7/21, 11:38 a.m.)

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Philadelphia’s life sciences sector has already seen a strong start to 2021 with new leadership and fundraising across companies in the region.

The sector was already on the rise: Philly recently ranked seventh in the country for top life sciences clusters, based on the region’s relevant job base, the amount of lab space inventory and the amount of funding it attracts from venture capitalists, a CBRE report found at the end of last year.

This month, Ben Franklin Technology Partners, the state-backed early-stage investing org that supports various life science and tech startups in the region, will officially instate Scott Nissenbaum as its president and CEO.

Previously the org’s chief investment officer, Nissenbaum will take the title of president and CEO on Jan. 11, when current head RoseAnn Rosenthal will officially step down and take on an advisory CEO emeritus role. The transition was first announced in June, and Nissenbaum assumed the title of president and chief operating officer beginning July 1.

“I have been blessed to have had the opportunity to lead an organization whose mission, purpose and people contribute so much to our regional community,” Rosenthal said in a statement last summer. “It is the right time for this transition: for me personally, and for the organization as a healthy milestone in development of its next strategic plan.”

Ben Franklin CIO Scott Nissenbaum speaks at Philly Tech Week 2016 presented by Comcast.

Scott Nissenbaum speaks at Philly Tech Week 2016. (Courtesy photo)

Niseenbaum, who has been with the org for the last five years, and has since grown the portfolio by more than 100 companies, streamlined the org’s investment processes, spearheaded fundraising for the GO Philly Fund and managed BFTP’s co-investment partnerships. He, Rosenthal and VP of Marketing and Communications Jason Bannon were collectively added to’s 2020 RealLIST Connectors for their work with early-stage startups.

The incoming president told he “couldn’t be more excited” about the work he’ll be doing and to build on the existing legacy with the org.

“I have the very fortunate opportunity to build on RoseAnn’s amazing legacy, and will stay focused on continuing Ben Franklin’s work of helping promising companies and founders get access to the capital and resources they need to thrive here, for the benefit of the Philadelphia region and the Commonwealth,” he said.


TELA Bio, the Malvern-based medtech company specializing in the field of soft-tissue reconstruction, announced Tuesday that it had appointed Dr. Bruce Freedman as its VP of clinical development. He joins the company after 32 years as a private practice general surgeon, and will advocate for a “more natural hernia repair mesh option as an alternative to permanent and resorbable synthetic mesh,” the company said.

“TELA Bio is providing much needed innovation in the hernia repair specialty, and I believe this product has remarkable potential to help surgeons break decades-long dependence on plastic mesh, while advancing treatment and better serving the patient,” Freedman said in a statement Tuesday.

The company’s products focus on minimizing long-term exposure to permanent synthetic materials, and its product, OviTex, is used as a surgical mesh to reinforce or repair soft tissue. Freedman’s role will involve sharing the product with healthcare providers and hospital administration, expressing his experience with plastic mesh over his years as a surgeon.

“Dr. Freedman adds a credible, experienced voice that will help distinguish us from the many larger, legacy companies,” said Antony Koblish, TELA’s cofounder, president and CEO. “Like us, he shares a passion for safer hernia repair and his decision to join our mission further reinforces the critical need to offer patients a more natural hernia repair.”


Aro Biotherapeutics, a University City Science Center-based biotech company formed by two former Johnson & Johnson executives in 2018, raised an $88 million Series A, the company announced Tuesday. The company is working on the development of tissue-targeted genetic medicines, a class of therapies that selectively target RNA medicines to the specific site of disease.

The funding from the Series A will be used to advance the company’s lead therapeutic candidates into clinical development, with an initial focus in rare genetic and immune disorders, the company said.

Lead investors include Northpond Ventures and Cowen Healthcare Investments with participation from HealthCap, BVF Partners L.P. and Ridgeback Capital. Existing investors Johnson & Johnson Innovation, BioMotiv and Ionis Pharmaceuticals also participated in the round.

“By exploiting new mechanisms of action, Centyrin-RNA conjugates have the potential to achieve superior efficacy and safety in treating intractable diseases,” Susan Dillon, cofounder and CEO said of Aro in a statement. “We greatly appreciate the confidence our investors have in our vision. With their support, we can rapidly progress the development of our innovative drug discovery pipeline and ultimately deliver transformative genetic medicines to patients that desperately need them.”

Dillon told the Philadelphia Business Journal that the company also plans to use a portion of the funds to “roughly double” its staff from 20 to 40 employees in 2021. It started last year with just 13 employees.

Aro is based in a rapidly changing part of the city known for being a stronghold of the life science sector: University City. Here’s a comprehensive roundup of all the development projects happening in the area.


In other funding news, Carisma Therapeutics announced a $47 million Series B on Thursday.

The company develops cellular therapy aimed at fighting solid tumors, and this fresh funding will be used to advance its current pipeline and discovery programs. This includes its Phase 1 clinical trials of CT-0508, which it describes as “an anti-human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2) targeted chimeric antigen receptor macrophage (CAR-M).” The funding will also allow Carisma to continue developing its proprietary engineered-macrophage platform.

The round was led by Symbiosis II, LLC with participation from new investors Solasta Ventures and Livzon Pharmaceutical Group Inc. Existing investors AbbVie Ventures, HealthCap, Wellington Partners, IP Group, TPG Biotech, Agent Capital and MRL Ventures Fund also participated.

“We are incredibly excited to see the years of investigating the potential of our CAR-M platform culminating in this first-in-human clinical trial,” said Michael Klichinsky, VP of discovery, in a statement. “This will be the first time an engineered macrophage will be used in a clinical trial and we are looking forward to evaluating its potential benefit for patients.”

Over the last two years, Carisma also raised nearly $60 million in Series A funding to increase its staff and up its R&D capabilities, bringing the company’s total funding to $109 million.

Companies: Carisma Therapeutics Inc. / Ben Franklin Technology Partners

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