Adaptive TCR, a Fred Hutch Spinoff, Nabs $4.5M to Uncover Immune System Secrets

3/26/10Follow @xconomy

Seattle experts in computer science and immunology are rallying around a new spinoff company from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.

Seattle-based Adaptive TCR has nailed down a $4.5 million round of angel investment to get up and running, Xconomy has learned. The basic concept is to provide scientists with a high-speed, high-resolution look into the vast diversity of T-cells of the adaptive immune system that we all produce to ward off infections, and which sometimes go awry and cause disease.

This company wasn’t backed by the usual venture capital suspects in Seattle biotech, and it has an unusual backstory. Adaptive’s scientific co-founders are a pair of Hutch researchers who are first-time entrepreneurs in their 30s: Harlan Robins, a particle physicist who turned to genomics a decade ago to tackle its daunting math, and Chris Carlson, a geneticist and molecular biologist. Chad Robins, Harlan’s brother, has signed on as the founding president and CEO. Chad, who has a Wharton School business degree and experience with investment banking and hedge funds, wrote the original business plan and tapped his Rolodex to raise the company’s seed capital.

The founding scientific advisory board includes some big names. They include Arnold Levine of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, NJ; Gerald Nepom, the director of the Benaroya Research Institute in Seattle; Edus Houston Warren of the University of Washington and Fred Hutch, as well as two other prominent genetic researchers from the UW who aren’t being named yet.

“I’ve been talking to my brother for 20 years, and saying ‘You’re a smart guy, when are we going to do a business together?’” Chad Robins says. “He’s never been interested before. Then he called me last February.”

That was a little over a year ago. Now the business is taking shape with a founding team of four employees who have subleased some office space in South Lake Union from VLST.

Adaptive TCR is built on using high-speed gene sequencing instruments that capture data from biological samples, and combining it with some pretty heavy duty math that’s executed by proprietary software.

The problem is certainly complicated enough to excite a string theorist like Harlan Robins. While scientists know that the 3 billion letters of DNA that make up a genome are consistent in every human cell, that’s not a fixed number that applies to immune system T-cells. The DNA in T-cells gets shuffled as they mature, allowing the cells to recognize a foreign invader like a virus. Humans have evolved an ability to adapt to these invaders, by building up a vast repertoire of T-cells with memory for a certain pathogen. This vast array of T-cell variation is something that scientists haven’t been able … Next Page »

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