Cambridge Startup Rubius Turns Human Blood Cells into Therapies


Immunotherapy is putting some remarkable examples of treating cancer in the way never before. The techniques of evoking body’s natural defense system to fight cancer are getting more innovative day by day.

You might have read much about monoclonal antibodies, oncolytic virus therapy, CAR-T cell therapy as promising immunotherapies to combat cancer.

Now, a biotech startup Rubius Therapeutics, a Flagship Ventures spin-off is engineering one of the blood components- Red Blood Cells (RBCs) to develop into a cancer therapy.

The startup has raised $120 million from Flagship and other leading private investors.

How turning RBCs into therapy could be beneficial?

Blood is circulated all over the body. This extended circulation would assist the blood therapy to reach even the difficult-to-reach target. The distribution of the drug can be easily studied and targeted to a specific tumor and cancer cells, limiting the off-target effects.

After engineering the RBCs, the developed product, Red-Cell Therapeutics™ (RCTs) are enucleated that means their nucleus is removed. The ejection of nuclei (genetic material) from all human red cells offers a safer and more easily controlled cell therapy.

RCTs has the natural ability to keep on circulating for extended periods (3 to 4 months) in the body. So it has ample time in the body to show its activity and to optimize the dosage.

CAR-T cell therapies have witnessed many severe cases of cytokine release syndrome that is a fatal inflammatory response of the body against the therapy. RCTs enable a person to tolerate the introduction of drugs without evoking any inflammatory immune response that could be deadly to the body.

Last but not the least the network of blood supply and distribution is widely established in every country. It will simplify the distribution of RCTs to the clinics and hospitals.

Red-Cell Therapeutics and Disease Treatment

Rubius is developing RCT as a novel class of drugs that could be utilized to treat a wide range of diseases like cancer, rare disease, autoimmune diseases and more.

The universal donor blood O(-) is used as a source. The blood-forming stem cells are taken from the donor blood, and genes are inserted to develop specific enzymes. The cells are cultured in the lab for three weeks. When the red blood cells start making the enzymes, the nucleus is ejected from it. Hence, the RCT is developed. Then the RCTs are infused into the body of the patients that can live for a long time in the body without inducing any inflammatory response.

Development of Red-Cell Therapeutics (image credit: Rubius Therapeutics)

The RCT platform allows Rubius to express enzymes, agonists, antagonists, binders and combinations in their natural conformation on or inside of red cells for their potential applications in many therapeutic areas.

RCTs can be administered to the patient in less than 30 minutes.

RCTs enable targeting specific component of the immune system without inducing the fatal immune response. Increased viability of the RCTs inside the body improves the compliance and convenience of therapy.

RCTs are being designed to specifically bind to target and stimulate the immune system to attack cancer cells as well as kills cancer by own.

Rubius started in 2015 after raising its first funding of $25 million from Flagship. During that time, the company has developed and tested 50 RCTs for various diseases. The company plans to enter into human clinical trials in 2018.

Featured image credit: Bigstockphoto (Rubius Therapeutics Red-Cell Therapeutics)

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