Aiming to harness the power of mitochondria, a Japanese startup nets new funding
One of the basic lessons in science class is that mitochondria act as the powerhouse of the cell. But LUCA Science, a Japanese biotech, is looking to take it a step further.
The company is looking to harness the power of mitochondria to eventually create therapies for organ and tissue repair, and on Monday it closed a $30.3 million Series B. Helmed by Rick Tsai, a Merck and Allergan vet, LUCA aims to research the mitochondria’s potential in obstetrics, respiratory, cardiovascular, CNS, immunology and oncology spaces.
Tsai explains that the company uses special mitochondria that are different from traditional methods, as extracted mitochondria can be highly delicate. As such, LUCA has spent its time developing a way to isolate intact, functional mitochondria. Tsai said that when the company’s mitochondria are extracted and thawed, the membrane potential is still preserved, allowing for it to be applied to further research and developed into eventual therapies.
Tsai noted that other companies and scientists working in this field are focused on using the currently available methods for mitochondria, mainly as indirect approaches to disease treatment. What sets LUCA apart, Tsai said, is how they apply their mitochondria for direct usage.
“We can store it and then still maintain the function, so for the first time, we can actually use allogeneic mitochondria and make it off-the-shelf as the product,” he said. “This will open up doors for emergency situations and many different therapies and make it into like a biopharmaceutical product.”
According to Yoshikazu Tokuoka, LUCA’s CFO, this Series B will keep the company moving forward for a while. Execs are aiming for an IPO in Japan around the middle of 2024.
Tokuoka also noted that this round will give LUCA a runway of three years while the company establishes its CMC capabilities. Tsai said that they’ll look to file an IND toward the end of 2023.
As for their manufacturing buildout, the company opened its CMC research laboratory in Tokyo last month to establish its manufacturing process and assay methods. However, Tsai also said that the company would be open to working with a larger CDMO to mass-produce their product.
The company previously netted a $9.8 million Series A and has a subsidiary in the UK to focus on research collaborations with the University of Oxford. LUCA also formed research collaborations with several Japanese universities and with Kyowa Kirin.
Monday’s was co-led by Japanese VC firms DCI Partners, and Fast Track Initiative, who previously invested in the company. London’s 4BIO Capital, which has had a knack for investing heavily in advanced therapies, was also a co-leader in the round. One representative from each VC will join LUCA’s board. Other contributing investors in the round include Remiges Ventures, Nippon Venture Capital, Nissay Capital, Asahi Kasei Pharma, QB Capital/NCB Venture Capital and SMBC Venture Capital.