It's the second time the startup has raised money in the past year. In June 2017, Rubius raisedR1.4 billion ($120 million) from investors including Flagship Pioneering. Thursday's crossover funding round included investments from mutual funds and institutional investors that weren't immediately named.
Red blood cell therapies can be thought of like pretty much any other medication, with one distinction: It's made out of red blood cells, not chemicals or other biological materials.
"They're basically superblood," Rubius CEO Torben Straight Nissen said. The red blood cells, produced in tanks at Rubius's labs, are "armed" with a therapeutic protein. That superblood is then infused into the body — an amount less than 1% of the total blood in your body — where it can get to work treating a particular condition.
To start, Rubius is developing enzyme replacement therapies for rare conditions in which the body doesn't make a particular enzyme, as well as cancer therapies that aim to re-engineer the body's immune system.
This funding will ideally get Rubius into clinical trials for some of its programs, and possibly even into later-stage trials that the company could bring to the FDA.
In 2017, the Food and Drug Administration first approved two highly personalized cancer versions of cell therapy, known as CAR T-cell therapy (CAR is short for chimeric antigen receptor). These treatments — approved for certain forms of blood cancer — aren't your run-of-the-mill pill that can be mass produced. Since the therapy is made from a person's own immune system, the process can take about three weeks.
To start, a doctor removes some white blood cells, the part of our body's immune system responsible for combatting infections and foreign substances, from a patient. In a healthy body, the immune system can recognize abnormal, cancerous cells, but for people with cancer, it doesn't recognize that the cells are spreading.
Then the cells are taken to a manufacturing facility at which point the cells are reengineered to recognize cancer cells and wipe them out. Those reprogrammed cells are sent back and administered to the patient.
Rubius, using red blood cells, wants to make treatments that don't have to be as personalized as these initial cell therapies.
"We think this is a great next generation cell therapy platform that has a lot of benefits over the CAR-Ts," Nissen said.
And to affect more people, the cell therapies would need to go beyond blood cancers. Right now, that's where most of the big successes have come from. But cell therapies could one day tackle solid tumors and maybe even the rare diseases Rubius is going after, along with autoimmune diseases like Type 1 diabetes.
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