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Gene, Cell Therapy Start-Up Gains $700M in Early Funds

Stem cells

Stem cells illustration (Public Domain Pictures)

23 June 2020. A biotechnology company creating engineered cells with modified genes for treating disease is raising $700 million in its first venture finance round. Sana Biotechnology Inc., founded just last year, is a spin-off enterprise from Harvard Medical School, now with 200 employees at its Seattle headquarters and two other sites.

Sana Biotechnology develops regenerative medicine therapies with stem cells designed and produced in advance, then dispensed like prescription drugs today. Induced pluripotent stem cells, also known as adult stem cells, are derived from existing human tissue and not from embryos. Adult stem cells today are genetically altered and cultured in the lab, then induced to differentiate, or transform, into various types of cells and tissue that can replace damaged counterparts in the body. With most current technologies, however, stem cells must be taken from and newly transformed cells returned to the same patient, which makes the customized process labor-intensive and expensive.

The company’s technology, based on research in the labs of Sana Biotech’s scientific founders and Harvard cell biologists Chad Cowan and Richard Mulligan, aims to produce therapeutic stem cells that work for anyone.  For this purpose, Sana Biotech is designing stem cells that do not induce a damaging response from the recipient’s immune system. The company is genetically altering stem cells with Crispr-edited genes and other methods to reduce the production of immune-system proteins that can cause those adverse reactions.

The company’s basic platform stem cells can then be further altered and cultured to transform into off-the-shelf replacement cells in the body, such as for heart muscle, blood vessels, liver, and beta cells in the pancreas that produce insulin. In addition, Sana Biotech is developing a manufacturing process for large-scale and consistent production of off-the-shelf stem cell therapies addressing a broad range of diseases, both inherited and chronic.

“Sana is dedicated to modulating genes in cells as well as replacing damaged cells in the body,” says company co-founder and CEO Steve Harr in a company statement. Harr also cites the “progress to date in turning our technologies into potential therapies for serious diseases such as cancer, central nervous system diseases, heart disease, and various genetic disorders.”

As reported by Science & Enterprise in March 2019, Sana Biotech received seed funding from life science venture investors ARCH Venture Partners, Flagship Pioneering, and F-Prime Capital. In its first full venture financing round, Sana Biotech is raising more than $700 million from those same investors, as well as Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, Baillie Gifford, Alaska Permanent Fund, the Public Sector Pension Investment Board, Bezos Expeditions, GV (formerly Google Ventures), Omega Funds, Altitude Life Science Ventures, and multiple unnamed institutional investors.

The company plans to use the round’s proceeds to further develop its core technologies for gene editing and cell modification, as well as delivery of stem cell therapies. In addition, Sana Biotech says it will use the funds for advancing its preclinical research and later clinical studies, building manufacturing capabilities, and more hiring of scientific talent.

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