Am­gen bets on stem cell com­pa­ny For­tu­na Fix in $25M round

Am­gen’s ven­ture arm just made a bet on re­gen­er­a­tive med­i­cine for the first time. The phar­ma gi­ant pitched in to a new $25 mil­lion fi­nanc­ing round for Cana­di­an stem cell com­pa­ny For­tu­na Fix.

For­tu­na is work­ing on new ways to re­grow neur­al tis­sue dam­aged by de­gen­er­a­tion and trau­ma. With its tech­nol­o­gy, the com­pa­ny hopes to mim­ic the ca­pa­bil­i­ties of the Mex­i­can sala­man­der, known for its abil­i­ty to re­grow its own spinal cord, jaw, tail, skin and limbs — all with­out scar­ring.

Jan-Er­ic Ahlfors, For­tu­na Fix

The com­pa­ny says it’s re­pro­duced this phe­nom­e­na in test tubes by start­ing with reg­u­lar old mul­ti­po­tent stem cells, which can be tak­en from any tis­sue (hair, skin, bone mar­row, etc.) and re-en­gi­neered in­to neur­al stem cells. There’s a name for this kind of stem cell ther­a­py, but it’s a mouth­ful: au­tol­o­gous mul­ti­po­tent stem cells pro­duced by di­rect re­pro­gram­ming. The good thing about these stem cells is they don’t tend to spark tu­mor growth nor do they stim­u­late the im­mune sys­tem — ؅two of the biggest chal­lenges fac­ing stem cell ther­a­pies.

In the­o­ry, such re­pro­grammed cells can be in­ject­ed in­to a pa­tient mul­ti­ple times, al­low­ing for a treat­ment reg­i­men that could ful­ly re­gen­er­ate the tis­sue in mind. For­tu­na is hop­ing its neur­al stem cells will re­gen­er­ate the brains of Parkin­son’s dis­ease pa­tients.

Re­grow­ing brain tis­sue in PD

PD pa­tients lack the brain chem­i­cal dopamine, which helps con­trol mus­cle move­ment. Neur­al stem cells have the abil­i­ty to make and re­place the dead and dy­ing dopamine-pro­duc­ing cells in pa­tients, re­plac­ing the miss­ing neu­ro­trans­mit­ter and re­vers­ing the symp­toms.

For­tu­na, found­ed in 2015, will use cash from the new fi­nanc­ing round to do Phase I/IIa clin­i­cal tri­als in PD as well as spinal cord in­jury.

For­tu­na’s CEO and CSO Jan-Er­ic Ahlfors said the com­pa­ny’s tech­nol­o­gy might soon de­liv­er stem cells that can “read­i­ly re­place lost neu­rons, do not re­quire im­mune sup­pres­sion, are eth­i­cal­ly sourced, ef­fi­ca­cious and ad­dress some of the largest un­met med­ical needs.” And Am­gen is will­ing to put up some cash to see if it works.

Am­gen’s first for­ay in­to cel­lu­lar re­gen­er­a­tion

Philip Tagari, Am­gen

This is Am­gen’s first in­vest­ment in re­gen­er­a­tive med­i­cine, but the com­pa­ny’s long been in­ter­est­ed in treat­ing neu­rode­gen­er­a­tion. The com­pa­ny part­nered with No­var­tis back in 2015 to de­vel­op a BACE in­hibitor to treat Alzheimer’s dis­ease. The mol­e­cule is cur­rent­ly in Phase III test­ing.

Now, two Am­gen VPs are tied to the in­vest­ment deal with For­tu­na. John Dun­lop, VP of neu­ro­science dis­cov­ery re­search at Am­gen, will sit on For­tu­na’s sci­en­tif­ic ad­vi­so­ry board. Philip Tagari, VP of ther­a­peu­tic dis­cov­ery, will be a board ob­serv­er.

“This in­vest­ment in For­tu­na rep­re­sents Am­gen’s first for­ay in­to cel­lu­lar re­gen­er­a­tive re­search and un­der­scores our com­mit­ment to ad­vanc­ing nov­el neu­ro­science re­search for se­ri­ous brain dis­eases, such as Parkin­son’s,” Tagari said in a state­ment. “Re­gen­er­a­tive med­i­cine is one of the most ex­cit­ing fields of health care to­day, and we are de­light­ed to par­tic­i­pate in the ad­vance­ment of these in­no­v­a­tive so­lu­tions for pa­tients suf­fer­ing from se­vere neu­rode­gen­er­a­tive dis­eases and neu­ro­trau­ma.”

John Hood [file photo]

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