INDIA

Triangle startup raises $37M to test its potential cancer cure

Shailesh Maingi is the CEO and founder of Inceptor Bio, which aims to cure cancer.

Shailesh Maingi is the CEO and founder of Inceptor Bio, which aims to cure cancer.

Courtesy Inceptor Bio

A biotechnology startup in Morrisville is advancing research into cutting-edge cancer treatments after receiving $37 million from investors in a Series A round of funding last week.

Inceptor Bio, a 2-year-old company in RTP, was born of a “simple mission,” according to its founder and CEO, UNC-Chapel Hill adjunct professor Shailesh Maingi: “to cure cancer.”

“We believe we’re at the advent of a new era of technology led by cell and gene therapy,” Maingi said. “I tend to think that innovation occurs in leaps and bounds and steps. …I believe we’re in the early innings of a 50-year run that will dramatically alter how medicine is practiced in our lifetimes.”

Inceptor Bio’s lead program, called CAR-T, trains T cells in the human body to better fight malignancies. The goal is for reengineered T cells to work in concert with other parts of the immune system to expunge cancer.

“It’s a very, very different approach than traditionally how drugs have been developed,” Maingi said. “What’s interesting about what we do in cell therapy, and what the field generally does, is that we’re not actually attacking cancer directly. So if you think about chemotherapy, you’re actually giving a drug that attacks the cancer cell. That’s not what we’re doing. What we’re doing is helping your body’s immune system to attack cancer.”

Cancer cells are common. “Almost all of us” have had cancer cells at some point, Maingi said. But our immune systems identify and destroy cancer before the body endures lasting damage. Sometimes, malignant cells evade the immune system long enough for tumors to develop. Resulting complications are responsible for one in six deaths worldwide.

“(Cancer) is the most complex medical problem we face,” Maingi said. “Eighteen million people are diagnosed with cancer each year and 10 million people die each year. An easy way to think about that is that our hearts beat about 30 million times a year. Every time your heart beats, either somebody is dying of cancer or is diagnosed with cancer. So that that makes it memorable for me. I never forget about the toll that cancer takes on on society and every individual.”

CAR-T hopes to amplify the body’s natural fighting system, equipping it to overcome even late-stage cancer.

With its new seed money, Maingi thinks Inceptor Bio can reach FDA-approved Phase I clinical trials by the second half of 2023. To expedite the process, the company acquired a manufacturing facility in Gainesville, Florida, where it will perform cell modifications on patient blood samples.

“One of the things that we recognize in cell and gene therapy is that the supply chain, especially in manufacturing, is a real bottleneck,” Maingi said. “So having our own facility helps us move things along.”

Two complementary cell therapy platforms — CAR-M and CAR-NK — are also under development. Each works to enhance a different player in the human immune system.

“Our immune system works as a symphony,” Maingi said. “So you need all these different pieces to be able to attack cancer, and different types of cancer will react to different types of immune cells.”

Inceptor Bio employs 47 people now, 30 of whom work at its production site in Gainesville. By year’s end, the company hopes to hire another 16. Its three-year plan is to employee 150 people, with 60% in the Triangle.

“The skill set required of these people is just tremendous,” Maingi said. “It’s really cutting-edge science. I mean, people talk about a lot of stuff being cutting edge. But this is it. There’s nothing else that is going on that’s more cutting edge than what we’re trying to do here.”

Lars Dolder is a business reporter at The News & Observer. He covers retail, technology and innovation.

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