Refuge Bio Turns to China for $25M Financing of Precision CRISPR R&D

Xconomy San Francisco — 

Refuge Biotechnologies, a company researching ways to use CRISPR gene editing to make cancer treatment more precise, has raised $25 million in financing to continue work on its preclinical drug pipeline.

China-based 3SBio and Sequoia China led the Series B round of investment in the Menlo Park, CA, company.

CRISPR-Cas9 technology uses modified versions of the Cas9 enzyme to bind to DNA and cut it, turning off the gene. Refuge says it has developed a way to modify the enzyme so it no longer cuts DNA. This “dead Cas9” still targets areas of the genome but it only activates when it encounters specific sensors on the surface of cancer cells. Refuge is trying to use this approach to make cancer treatment more precise by delivering a therapy only to the target. If it works, Refuge says the result could be a treatment that offers better efficacy and fewer side effects.

Refuge’s lead drug is RB-1916, a cell therapy engineered to block PD-1, a protein that tumors use to evade detection by the immune system. The company says that the treatment, which has not yet reached human testing, could have applications in treating a form of lymphoma. The company’s pipeline also includes cell therapies that could have applications in treating solid tumors.

New investors Danhua Capital, Sangel Capital and Ocean Pine Healthcare Fund also participated in Refuge’s latest financing, which included earlier investors 3E Bioventures WuXi Healthcare Ventures, and ShangBay Capital. The new round gives the lead investors the exclusive right to negotiate the right to develop and commercialize cell therapies in China based on the Refuge technology. Refuge also says that it will collaborate with 3SBio to use the company’s technology to develop programmed cell therapies that produce therapeutic proteins inside a patient’s body.

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