Looking to cure Type 1 diabetes, investors front $114M to launch a pioneering human study at Semma
Three years ago, Harvard’s Doug Melton published a landmark study outlining how he had successfully used stem cells to create insulin-producing pancreatic beta cells that were inserted in bulk into mice and successfully protected from an immune response — a breakthrough in regenerative medicine that bore real promise to provide a curative approach for Type 1 diabetes that could conceivably end a lifetime of insulin shots.
It was the culmination of 23 years of lab work, launched when his son was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. And that achievement marked the beginning of something new in biotech.
That same year Semma Therapeutics would be launched — with a $44 million A round landing in 2015 — in pursuit of a mission to complete one of the most ambitious preclinical programs in the regenerative med field. And after working on all the nitty gritty research needed to see if this tech could be scaled up to human size, an expanded syndicate of venture investors have put together a whopping $114 million round with plans to take this into humans for a first-of-its-kind proof-of-concept study.
One of the big challenges Semma faced in scaling up, Melton tells me, was to create a membrane specifically designed with pores that were large enough for molecules to pass through but too small for immune cells to penetrate. Using some calculations from the lab, Melton and his colleagues estimated that they would need some 150 million cells — possibly ranging up to three times that amount — in order to provide the natural insulin needed to eliminate the shots.
Melton compares the Continue reading