Penn invests ‘several million’ in Carisma Therapeutics as part of $50M biotech push

A big boost for the “active commercial development of Penn’s world-leading expertise” in the cell and gene therapy space.

Penn trustee Osagie Imasogie (left) interviews Penn biotech veteran Carl June during Philly Tech Week 2018.

(Photo by Roberto Torres)

The University of Pennsylvania joined a $53 million funding round closed by University City’s Carisma Therapeutics, as part of a larger push to grow the local biotech sector.

Penn declined to disclose how much it contributed to the company’s Series A round — led by AbbVie Ventures and HealthCap — but Penn Center for Innovation told the figure was in the “several million dollar” range.

The investment in Carisma Therapeutics — formerly CARMA Therapeutics, which is working on a cellular therapy aimed at fighting solid tumors — is part of an effort launched by Penn to deploy $50 million in 10 biotech companies from the Penn ecosystem over the next three years.

The biotech initiative, first reported Tuesday by Inquirer reporter Joseph DiStefano, seeks to grow the local biotech corridor while retaining pioneering researchers like Dr. Carl June. independently confirmed the recent round is part of that initiative.

“Carisma’s announcement is a major step forward for our science,” said cofounder Dr. Saar Gill, assistant professor of Hematology-Oncology at Penn’s Abramson Cancer Center. “When we first came up with the concept of CAR macrophages, we could only dream of the sort of enthusiasm, energy and support that are now flowing through the company, and that will allow us to bring this innovative therapy to patients with metastatic solid cancers.”

The first investment from the push was Penn’s $5-million participation in a $100-million round of funding for Tmunity Therapeutics closed in January. Per the Inquirer’s report, the investment push calls for companies to retain their Philly location and to secure additional outside capital.


“The ‘Cellicon Valley’ ecosystem we are helping to foster through our active commercial development of Penn’s world-leading expertise and intellectual property in the cell and gene therapy space is stimulating real economic impact and growth in the Greater Philadelphia region,” PCI Managing Director John Swartley said in a statement. “But most importantly, it’s helping to create new cutting-edge therapeutic options for patients in need.” (Editor’s note: About that branding…)

Access to capital and talent retention were touted by June as main hurdles to biotech growth in the area.

“Penn is a source of most of the innovation [in this field] so we want to keep the best and recruit the best,” June said in May at the PACT and Penn Center for Innovation “Disrupting Cancer” event. “That needs to be a major effort so we can grow.”

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