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Venture Investor Funds Cell Therapy Targeting Tech

SomaCode team

Oliver Dodd, left, and Soufiane Aboulhouda, leading the SomaCode project (Wyss Institute, Harvard University)

19 May 2022. A venture capital company is funding biomedical engineering research to improve the reach and targeting of cell therapies to more diseases. The project is part of Northpond Labs, a joint undertaking of Northpond Ventures in Cambridge, Massachusetts, providing $12 million for five years to support researchers at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University developing biomedical technologies with commercial promise.

The Wyss Institute project known as SomaCode seeks to solve a continuing problem with cell therapies, increasing the reach of these treatments to more organs and tissue in the body. As of last year, says Wyss Institute, cell therapies approved so far by FDA address blood-related cancers, such as leukemia and lymphoma, due largely to the relative ease of injected cells in reaching diseased cells in blood. Reaching diseased cells in solid organs and tissues, however, is a more complex problem, which SomaCode is taking on.

SomaCode is an initiative from the lab of George Church, professor of genetics at Harvard Medical School and a core faculty member at Wyss Institute. Doctoral candidates Soufiane Aboulhouda and Oliver Dodd lead the project that adapts high throughput genomic analysis to identify molecular signatures acting as unique indicators of specific diseases. For many diseases, those signals are generated by inflammation, associated with specific regions in the body. In some diseases, however, inflammation signals can change, making it more difficult for the immune system to find precise locations of diseased cells.

Second Northpond Labs project

Wyss Institute says SomaCode addresses this problem by genetically modifying immune-system cells to add in better targeting properties. The modified cells are collected in a pool of cells, which the researchers test for addressing specific disease targets. By repeating this process, says Wyss Institute, the SomaCode team can find cellular alterations that reliably reach diseased cells, and produce engineered cells with gene editing techniques like Crispr that work as therapies.

Northpond Labs began in 2020 as a vehicle for Northpond Ventures to support emerging biomedical technologies developed at Wyss Institute addressing important unmet needs, and with high commercial potential. SomaCode is the second technology supported by Northpond Labs. The first funded project is called eRNA, creating a more efficient and inexpensive manufacturing process for synthetic RNA oligonucleotides, short RNA sequences used in therapeutics and genome editing.

Both SomaCode and eRNA are validation projects at Wyss Institute. Validation projects have proven their concept and meet predefined technical, product development and intellectual property criteria for commercialization. Researchers on validation projects add in technical features and properties that build a stronger case for commercialization, and reduce risks to potential investors.

Aboulhouda notes in a Wyss Institute statement that the Northpond funding “allows us to significantly accelerate this exciting research,” and that the team looks forward “to work with and learn from the incredible interdisciplinary team at Northpond.” Michael Rubin, Northpond Ventures’ founder and CEO adds, “The SomaCode project team really impressed us with their systematic approach to addressing a therapeutic challenge, supported by milestone-driven deliverables and entrepreneurial drive.”

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