US government backs thymus rejuvenation project with $37m ARPA-H funding

Project led by Thymmune Therapeutics aims to restore damaged or non-functional thymus tissue.

The US Department of Health and Human Services, through the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health (ARPA-H), today announced $37 million in project funding to restore function to the thymus. The Thymus Rejuvenation project is led by Thymmune Therapeutics, a George Church-backed biotech startup developing thymic cell therapies to restore immune function in aging and disease. It is the first industry project to receive support through the ARPA-H Open Broad Agency Announcement (Open BAA).

The primary objective of the Thymus Rejuvenation project is to address the issue of damaged or non-functional thymus tissue. The thymus plays a pivotal role in the immune system by regulating and developing T cells, essential for combating infections, diseases, and mounting effective responses to vaccines. Thymus function naturally diminishes with age, leading to impaired immune system functionality, increased susceptibility to illnesses, and compromised health outcomes. Thymus disorders affect over 10,000 new patients in the US annually.

‘Rebooting’ the immune system

Scientists from Thymmune are working on transforming cells into various tissue types, ultimately cultivating functional thymus tissue that it is hoped can be used to “reboot” a patient’s immune system. The ARPA-H funding will move this treatment closer to clinical development and expand its scope to address a wider range of clinical indications related to age-related immune depletion.

“For children born without a thymus, those with thymus defects and elderly patients with failing immune function, restoring thymus function could be a game changer in their health and quality of life,” said Dr Amy Jenkins, director of the ARPA-H Health Science Futures office. “ARPA-H looks to support cutting-edge technologies like this one that, if successful, could have applications beyond just one disease.”

Two key project phases

In the initial phase of the project, researchers aim to create state-of-the-art human induced pluripotent stem thymic epithelial cells capable of supporting the development of white blood cells in vitro. Subsequently, Thymmune plans to establish protocols for transplanting and achieving long-term engraftment of these stem cells in animal models, ultimately demonstrating the potential for using these cells to treat patients lacking functional thymus tissue.

“This funding will empower us to reshape drug development by harnessing cutting-edge advancements in thymus biology, iPSC technology, and machine learning,” said Dr Stan Wang, founder and CEO of Thymmune. “Drawing from decades of dedicated research on the thymus gland, our approach has the potential to revolutionize immunology through the creation of innovative therapies for patients in need with a range of immune system disorders.”

Earlier this year, Thymmune secured $7 million in seed financing led by Pillar VC, with participation from NYBC Ventures and other investors. The company is backed by industry pioneers, including Mark Bamforth, the founder of Brammer Bio and Arranta Bio, former Alnylam CEO John Maraganore, and Harvard professor George Church, who is also a scientific advisor to the company.

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