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Off-the-Shelf Stem Cell Company Forms, Gains $72M

Drop of blood

(Alden Chadwick, Wikimedia Commons)

24 Sept. 2021. A new enterprise developing packaged blood-forming stem cells as therapies for a range of diseases began operations and raised $72 million in venture funds. Garuda Therapeutics in Cambridge, Massachusetts is co-founded by Dhvanit Shah, previously at Harvard University’s Stem Cell Institute and Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.

Garuda Therapeutics aims to create hematopoietic or blood-forming stem cells that can be used off-the-shelf without matching donors to recipients. Blood-forming stem cells transform into mature red and white blood cells and platelets, and are used in transplants, usually with bone marrow, to treat blood-related cancers, as well as other serious and life-threatening blood and neurological diseases. Blood-forming stem cell transplants, however, require a perfect or very close match on human leukocyte antigens, or HLAs, key proteins in blood, to prevent rejection by the recipients’ immune systems.

Shah’s research at Harvard and earlier investigated the development process for blood-forming stem cells from fetal endothelial cells, the cells in a thin membrane lining blood vessels. Studies by Shah and colleagues identified factors in endothelial cells and from outside that affect production of blood-forming stem cells. Findings from that research forms the basis of Garuda’s technology to provide blood-forming stem cells for recipients, without requiring a matching donor.

Treat as many as 70 diseases

Garuda Therapeutics says its process results in self-renewing blood stem cells that transform into red blood cells, white blood cells such T- and B-cells in the immune system, and platelets. The cells, says the company, could treat more than 70 diseases, without the need for taking a patient’s own cells or those of a donor. The company notes that the need is particularly urgent for racial minority and mixed race patients, who face fewer options or more barriers in finding matching stem cell donors.

“Our technology has the potential to transform blood stem cell transplants,” says Shah, now Garuda Therapeutics president and CEO, in a company statement released through BusinessWire. He adds, “Eliminating the need for donor or patient cells while gaining the ability to exploit stem cell engineering would democratize blood stem cell transplants, ensuring this vital, and often curative, therapy can be made accessible to any bone marrow transplant eligible patient in need.”

Shah founded Garuda Therapeutics along with Harvard colleagues David Scadden and Sean Morrison, who both serve as scientific advisers to the company. Science & Enterprise reported in November 2016 on formation of Magenta Therapeutics, also founded by Scadden, to make blood-forming stem cell transplants safer for patients.

Garuda Therapeutics is raising $72 million in its first venture funding round, led by three life science and health care investors: Aisling Capital, Northpond Ventures, and Orbimed. Joining the round are Cormorant Asset Management, Ridgeback Capital Investments, Monashee Investment Management, Sectoral Asset Management, National Resilience Inc., Mass General Brigham Ventures, and other unnamed investors.

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