Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Semma Therapeutics, a biotech company currently developing a cell therapy for Type 1 diabetes, has secured $44 million Series A equity financing and strategic funding. The financing is led by MPM Capital in partnership with Fidelity Biosciences, ARCH Venture Partners, and Medtronic. In addition to the equity financing, Semma has entered into an agreement with Novartis Pharmaceuticals — details of which have not been disclosed. The company expects the combination of securing the Series A financing plus inking the agreement with Novartis should allow Semma to advance new diabetes therapy program through the clinical proof-of-concept in man stage.
“Semma represents how we bring industry and investors together to foster the formation of companies around new technologies and innovations developed within Harvards research enterprise,” observes Isaac Kohlberg, Senior Associate Provost and Chief Technology Development Officer at Harvard University. “It demonstrates our mission to bring cutting-edge science from lab to clinic to improve patients quality of life and to benefit society.”
“We’ve been following Dr. Melton”s work for years and incubating Semma since last summer,” says Todd Foley, MPM Managing Director and Semma founding board member. “MPM is thrilled to be working to revolutionize the treatment of Type 1 Diabetes.”
Semma’s board of directors consists of Todd Foley and Jim Scopa Managing Directors at MPM Capital, Steven Knight Managing Partner at Fidelity Biosciences, Mitch Finer CSO at bluebird bio, and Robert Millman, the company’s CEO. Stephen Oesterle, Senior Vice President for Medicine and Technology at Medtronic, joins as a board observer.
Type 1 diabetes (T1D), formerly known as juvenile diabetes, is a chronic, life-threatening disease affecting millions worldwide, with 30,000 new cases are estimated annually the U.S. — half of those diagnosed in young children. Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease, meaning that the sufferer’s own immune system dysfunctions and mounts an attacks and destroy operation on pancreatic beta cells. These beta cells are responsible for blood sugar (glucose) level regulation by producing and releasing precise amounts of the essential hormone insulin.
Discovery of injectable insulin in the early 1920s by Canadian scientists Nobel laureate (1923) Frederick Banting and his medical student research assistant Charles Best changed Type 1 diabetes from being a uniformly fatal disease with a life expectancy of months to one that could be successfully managed for decades through multiple daily blood glucose measurements and insulin injections. However, insulin injections are not a diabetes cure and patients face a lifetime of difficult and precisely monitored disease management as well as potential for serious complications such as kidney failure, blindness and nerve damage. Despite nearly a century having passed since Banting and Best’s insulin discovery, insulin injection remains the only treatment available to patients.
Semma Therapeutics was founded to develop transformative therapies for patients who currently depend on insulin injections. Recent work in the Melton laboratory at Harvard has led to discovery of a method with potential to generate billions of functional, insulin-producing beta cells in the laboratory that develop in islet-like clusters grown from stem cells. The research team’s initial preclinical work in animal models of diabetes has demonstrated that transplantation of these cells can be sufficient to control blood glucose levels — breakthrough technology that has been exclusively licensed to Semma Therapeutics for the development of a cell-based diabetes therapy.
Doug Melton, PhD, Scientific Founder of Semma Therapeutics, is the Xander University Professor and Co-Chair of the Department of Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology at Harvard University, as well as a member of the National Academy of Sciences.
The Melton lab at Harvard studies developmental biology of the pancreas in aid of finding new diabetes treatments. The research team’s objective is to understand how the pancreas develops, and to use that information to grow and develop new pancreatic cells (Islets of Langerhans). This project is an example of the larger question of how vertebrates make an organ from undifferentiated embryonic cells.
“The ability to generate glucose-responsive, human beta cells through controlled differentiation of stem cells will accelerate the development of new therapeutics and I am thrilled and honored to be part of it,” says Robert Millman, co-founder of Semma and MPM Capital Managing Director who is joining Semma to serve as the company’s Chief Executive Officer. “We have assembled an experienced team with a track record of success in drug development. Our goal is to ensure we bring this remarkable discovery to patients as quickly as possible to reduce or eliminate their reliance on daily insulin injections.”
Semma Therapeutics’ ongoing research is now focused on combining these proprietary lab-grown cells with state-of-the-art cell delivery and immune protection strategies to protect these cells from the patient’s immune system and allow the beta cells to function as normal cells do in non-diabetic individuals. Implantation Beta cell-filled device implantation would provide a true replacement for a diabetic patient’s missing beta cells without requiring patient immunosuppression. Semma Therapeutics’ objective is to make such a therapeutic option a clinical reality for T1D patients.
Harvard Office of Technology Development (OTD)