UPMC Enterprises portfolio company Novasenta recently announced the completion of $40 million in Series A financing. The funding from UPMC Enterprises will allow Novasenta to advance its pipeline of antibody-based therapeutics, expand its proprietary computational platforms for target discovery, and expand operationally by recruiting top talent.
Novasenta was co-founded in 2018 by Robert Ferris, MD, PhD, Greg Delgoffe, PhD, and Dario Vignali, PhD, leading researchers from UPMC Hillman Cancer Center and the University of Pittsburgh. Using their expertise in oncology, metabolism, and immunity, the team is exploiting the human tumor microenvironment — the network of cells and structures that surround and interact with tumor cells inside the body — to develop immunotherapies that enable the body’s own immune system to fight cancer.
The company’s approach couples single-cell analysis with advanced data mining. Bolstered by access to more than a dozen solid tumor types across various stages of disease from UPMC and the University of Pittsburgh, Novasenta can discover broadly applicable and druggable targets with potential benefits in multiple cancers.
Access to fresh human tumor samples from UPMC operating rooms enables the Novasenta team to bypass the traditional process of starting with preclinical mouse models where cell lines are grown and then injected into the mouse. “We didn’t have multiple layers to get to the patient. We started with the patient,” explained co-founder Dr. Robert Ferris.
“With our significant Series A funding, Novasenta expects to move at least one of our three nominated programs into the clinic by 2024, with the potential to transform care for patients with solid tumors,” said Mani Mohindru, PhD, Novasenta’s CEO and a veteran biotechnology leader.
Through scaling of its in-house functional assays for antibody screening and selection, Novasenta is rapidly advancing a pipeline of therapeutics against novel targets discovered by their team of computational and experimental biologists.
Immunotherapies like checkpoint inhibitors and CAR T-cell therapies have certainly revolutionized cancer care and improved patient outcomes. “Unfortunately, these leading-edge treatments work for only a small subset of patients, leaving a vast, unmet need for effective therapies,” said Ferris. “With our team’s unusual ability to understand the complex interactions between specific tumor types and the immune system, Novasenta aims to fill that need, bringing hope to patients who currently have no good treatment options or those for whom existing immunotherapies have stopped working.”
Novasenta’s first few years were spent in stealth mode, working closely with a team at UPMC Enterprises that has decades of startup and investment experience. Bringing expertise in operations, finance, legal, marketing, human resources, and more, the Enterprises team established the business from the ground up.
By the time the company was ready to begin their emergence from stealth mode in the summer of 2021, Novasenta had a comprehensive brand strategy, a full operating plan, financial forecasts, a custom-built laboratory and office space in Pittsburgh, and a veteran biotech CEO along with the first several employees. This model allowed the researchers to continue focusing on the science and stay true to their goal of finding new therapies for patients.
“Enterprises’ high-touch company creation model is an integral part of what we do and our service to the investigator and founder community,” said Matthias Kleinz, DVM, PhD, Senior Vice President and head of Translational Sciences at UPMC Enterprises, who also served as Novasenta’s first CEO early-on. “Our unique model adds a tremendous amount of value and enables the acceleration of typical startup timelines. It’s why folks should want to work with us in the future.”
Dr. Ferris agreed, “I don’t think any other academic institution in the country has the innovation, financial wherewithal, and willingness to take the calculated financial and scientific risks that Enterprises has taken to really try to do something transformative.”
In the Press
Pittsburgh Inno: Novasenta raises $40M in Series A financing