‘Treg’ startup Sonoma expands with plans for manufacturing plant

Sonoma Biotherapeutics, a richly funded startup developing cell therapies for autoimmune and inflammatory diseases, is expanding, announcing plans Wednesday to build a manufacturing and research center in Seattle.

The planned center — expected to cover 83,000 square feet — will be used to develop and produce Sonoma’s experimental medicines, which are based on a special kind of immune cell known as regulatory T cells, or “Tregs.”

Sonoma has not yet begun clinical testing for its medicines, which are designed to treat rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease and other as-yet unspecified conditions.

Launched by well-known immunology Jeffrey Bluestone, the biotech has raised more than $335 million to date. It’s one of a handful of startups exploring Tregs, which have also begun to draw attention from larger pharmaceutical companies.

Sonoma is based in South San Francisco, but it chose Seattle for its new manufacturing center in part because of the area’s history with cell therapy. “Seattle has an established legacy of delivering many firsts in the cell therapy field for cancer, and we are building upon those insights to advance our pipeline of engineered Treg therapies for autoimmune and inflammatory diseases,” said Bluestone, in a statement.

Sonoma said its facility would include capabilities for cell selection, genetic modification and automated manufacturing. The company signed a “long-term” lease for the site, which is located on the Seattle waterfront.

In June, Sonoma received Food and Drug Administration permission to begin human testing of a fusion protein drug candidate that’s designed to be used as a “preconditioning” regimen ahead of Treg cell treatment. The trial is expected to begin in the third quarter, the company said.

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