A UK-based startup looks to beat Spark's Luxturna at its own game with programmable cell platform for eye disease
Spark’s Luxturna made waves in 2017 when it was approved to treat inherited retinal degradation by replacing the mutated RPE65 gene with a normal copy. But instead of replacing a faulty gene to regain function, what if scientists could reprogram whole cells in vivo?
On Tuesday, a UK-based startup reeled in $17 million to pursue just that.
Mogrify set out in 2016 to pioneer a new class of in vivo reprogramming therapies in ophthalmology and use that same technology to transform the way ex vivo cell therapies are developed. The company first closed a Series A round in 2019. And now, investors are tacking on another $17 million, bringing the expanded round to $33 million in total.
While the initial funding helped the young company set up operations, corporate development officer Pierre-Louis Joffrin says this next wave will be used to establish proof-of-concept.
“In the case of ophthalmology, this regenerative approach of actually bringing back some of the cells that have disappeared as a result of disease would be transformative,” he told Endpoints News. “Most approaches at the moment, either approved or in the pipeline, are only trying to slow down the progression of the disease.”
Mogrify’s name is derived from the word “transmogrify,” which Merriam Webster defines as “to change or alter greatly and often with grotesque or humorous effect,” and essentially sums up what the company is trying to do. The team uses transcription factors — small proteins that regulate gene expression — to drive the conversion of cells, essentially allowing scientists to “switch” a cell from one state to another.
The idea of cell reprogramming isn’t new. In fact, Tenaya Therapeutics scored a $106 million crossover round back in March for its heart failure programs, including one that uses a single AAV vector to deliver combinations of multiple genes that drive in vivo reprogramming of cardiac fibroblasts to create new heart muscle cells.
In immuno-oncology, Mogrify uses transcription factors to convert induced pluripotent stem cells (IPSC) in petri dishes or test tubes, which are then delivered as a therapeutic through transfusion. The company recently struck a partnership with Sangamo Therapeutics that will look to derive Tregs from IPSCs using Mogrify’s platform.
“The use of transcription factors in the differentiation from IPSC to specific cells, means that we can drive the efficiency up, as well as the time of differentiation down,” Joffrin said.
Mogrify has a second partnership it hasn’t disclosed yet, according to Joffrin.
The renewed Series A — led by Parkwalk Advisors with help from Astellas Venture Management, 24Haymarket, Abcam co-founder Jonathan Milner and Mogrify CEO Darrin Disley — will provide a runway through 2022, Joffrin said. The company will look to pull in a “significant” Series B by 2023, he added.
“The most exciting thing about the company is its ability to really completely discover new biology,” he said.