Selecta Biosciences is embarking on a strategic collaboration with Cartesian, steering itself into the realm of cell therapy innovation, poised for a resurgence after successfully securing a majority of its previous ventures. This alliance was unveiled through a reverse merger, with the resultant entity retaining the Selecta name and its existing Nasdaq listing. CEO Carsten Brunn will continue to lead the merged company, while Cartesian’s co-founders, Murat Kalayoglu, and Michael Singer, will assume roles on the board.
In terms of ownership, Selecta shareholders will hold a 26.9% stake in the newly formed company. The amalgamated venture is set to benefit from a robust financial foundation, boasting over $110 million in cash reserves. This includes a noteworthy $60.2 million injection from a concurrent private placement.
With these funds, the revitalized Selecta plans to propel its lead asset, Descartes-08, a pioneering RNA-engineered CAR-T therapy developed by Cartesian, into a phase 3 clinical trial targeting myasthenia gravis. Additionally, a phase 2 trial exploring the application of Descartes-08 in lupus patients is scheduled to commence in mid-2024. The augmented financial resources will also support the pursuit of other promising programs.
This strategic maneuver breathes new life into both Selecta and Cartesian, infusing a sense of optimism—a valuable commodity that has eluded many biotech companies in the current landscape. For Selecta, this marks a pivotal shift from its diminished aspirations, which were epitomized by the decision in August to focus primarily on SEL-212, a gout drug in partnership with Sobi, and to seek FDA approval by 2024.
The company had paused other initiatives, such as the preclinical ImmTOR-IL asset for liver diseases, and implemented a workforce reduction of 25% during the summer, all of which contributed to a prolonged period of share prices below $2 since March.
While Cartesian has been making strides with the advancement of Descartes-08, the typical challenges faced by private biotechs in securing financing have persisted.
The merger with Selecta positions Descartes-08 as a beacon, aiming to attract sustained public investment. Beyond Descartes-08, Cartesian brings to the table Descartes-15, a more potent next-generation version in the preclinical stage, and Descartes-33, an off-the-shelf stem cell therapy designed to address autoantibody-associated autoimmune diseases. This collaborative venture represents a significant leap forward for both companies in the biotech landscape.