Carisma Therapeutics (Carisma), an exciting Penn start-up developing engineered monocytes and macrophages for the treatment of cancer, had several notable accomplishments this past fiscal year. The company developed a strategic collaboration with Moderna to discover, develop and commercialize in vivo engineered chimeric antigen receptor monocyte (CAR-M) cancer therapeutics. Under the terms of the agreement, Carisma received a $45 million up-front cash payment and an investment by Moderna in the form of a $35 million convertible note. Carisma will also receive research funding from Moderna and is eligible to receive development, regulatory, and commercial milestone payments, plus royalties on sales of any products that are commercialized under the agreement.
On another successful front, CEO Steven Kelly won the prestigious Ernst and Young (E&Y) Entrepreneur of the Year for the Greater Philadelphia region. Mr. Kelly was selected by a panel of independent judges for his work leading Carisma and joins an esteemed multi-industry community of prior awardees.
Finally, following the successful issuance of the first patent covering a chimeric antigen receptor (CAR)-engineered macrophage in 2021, Penn and Carisma have further strengthened the intellectual property portfolio covering this technology through the issuance of five additional patents in 2022. This patent portfolio, exclusively licensed by Penn to Carisma, provides robust coverage for macrophages and monocytes engineered to express chimeric antigen receptors (CARs). By way of contrast to the more familiar CAR-T cells, CAR-engineered macrophages and monocytes may have certain advantages in their ability to target, access and survive in solid tumors, and, coupled with their ability to activate the patient’s own immune responses, this makes them attractive potential cancer therapeutics. Carisma was founded by Penn Medicine’s Saar Gill, PhD, and his graduate student Michael Klichinsky (now Chief Scientific Officer at Carisma).