The US Department of Health and Human Services has awarded $37m in funding to Thymmune Therapeutics to accelerate the startup biotech’s development of thymic cell therapies.

The financing was made through the National Institute of Health’s Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health (ARPA-H), a new research agency set up by the Biden administration.

Thymmune Therapeutics is undertaking the eponymous Thymus Rejuvenation project, which aims to restore damaged or non-functional thymus tissue.

The thymus, a gland located behind the sternum, plays a critical role in the immune system. Its ability to develop and regulate T cell lymphocytes decreases with age as the organ atrophies, and in disease.

ARPA-H states that more than 10,000 new patients are diagnosed with thymus disorders each year, adding that congenital factors, cancer treatments, or autoimmune disorders are often the causes.

Thymmune aims to bolster immune response by restoring thymus function. The first phase of its rejuvenation project is to demonstrate T cell development restoration in thymic-deficient animals by developing human-induced pluripotent stem cell-derived thymic epithelial cells (iPS-TECs). It then plans to test the cells in animal models to achieve immune function.

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By GlobalData

The Massachusetts-based biotech says this would demonstrate a clinical pathway to treat patients who lack a functional thymus. ARPA-H explained the funding could potentially restore immune function as people age.

ARPA-H Health Science Futures office director Amy Jenkins said: “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.

“ARPA-H looks to support cutting-edge technologies like this one that, if successful, could have applications beyond just one disease.”

Thymus-targeted immunotherapies were also the funding target of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation – the non-profit donated $5m to Smart Immune to develop the company’s ProTcell platform in April 2023.