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Tissue Regeneration Start-Up Gains $33M in Early Funds

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(stevepb, Pixabay)

15 February 2017. A new enterprise founded by researchers at Stanford University aims to discover and develop drugs that repair and regenerate tissue from stem cells. Surrozen Inc. in South San Francisco, California is starting out with $33 million raised in its first venture funding round.

Surrozen plans to create treatments for tissue repair and regeneration based on research by the founders on the Wnt signaling pathway,  a set of proteins with signaling molecules that regulate cell interactions during tissue development. Mutations in genes affecting this pathway are associated with interruptions in stem cell control that in some cases lead to birth defects and diseases including cancer. Wnt target genes are activated by Beta-Catenin signals that are shown to affect stem cells’ ability to regenerate into adult tissue cells.

In their natural state, Wnt proteins have not been shown effective as drugs, due in large part to problems with solubility. Surrozen founder Christopher Garcia, professor of molecular and cellular physiology and structural biology at Stanford’s medical school developed a technology for creating synthetic proteins that act as surrogates for Wnt pathway activators with drug-like properties. Surrozen is licensing that technology from Stanford as its primary platform.

“Wnt pathway activation has been a biochemical puzzle for decades,” says Garcia in a company statement. “Our technology opens the door to address fundamental biological and therapeutic questions in tissue repair for the first time.”

Claudia Janda, a research scientist and postdoctoral researcher in Garcia’s lab at Stanford, is also an inventor of Surrozen’s technology, and a co-founder of the company. Janda will be the company’s senior scientist.

Joining Garcia and Janda as Surrozen founders are Roeland Nusse and Calvin Kuo, from the Stanford medical school faculty. Nusse is a recognized pioneer on Wnt signaling, as well as chair of Stanford’s developmental biology department and director of the school’s cancer stem cell research program. Kuo is professor of chemical and systems biology, and leader of the cancer biology program at Stanford’s medical school.

Surrozen is raising $33 million in its first financing round, led by The Column Group, a venture capital company specializing in early-stage drug discovery companies. No other investors were revealed. Surrozen plans to apply the funds to implementing its drug discovery platform.

Tim Kutzkey, a managing partner at The Column Group is Surrozen’s acting CEO. Wen-Chen Yeh, the company’s chief scientist says, “There is perhaps no field within human biology that has more exciting and untapped potential than Wnt signaling. Surrozen’s foundational technology has the potential to generate a broad pipeline of Wnt pathway agonists that elicit tissue regeneration for a diverse array of conditions with great medical need.”

Joining Surrozen’s board is Harold Varmus, co-recipient of the 1989 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine and discoverer of the first Wnt gene, with company co-founder Roeland Nusse, in 1982.

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