Nabiha Saklayen, Cellino co-founder and CEO (via Cellino)

Backed by Bay­er's Leaps, Boston-based Celli­no lands $80M for cell ther­a­py-in-box

The sum­mer be­fore Celli­no CEO and co-founder Nabi­ha Sak­layen start­ed at Har­vard, she lost her grand­moth­er fol­low­ing com­pli­ca­tions to di­a­betes. Be­fore then, she hadn’t tak­en a bi­ol­o­gy class since ninth or tenth grade — the mark of a clas­sic physi­cist — but it was then she de­cid­ed she want­ed the rest to sit at the in­ter­sec­tion of the two for the rest of her ca­reer.

Com­bine that with be­ing across the way from the Uni­ver­si­ty’s stem cell in­sti­tute in Cam­bridge, and you get the birth of Celli­no, an au­tonomous cell ther­a­py man­u­fac­tur­ing com­pa­ny that just an­nounced the clos­ing of its Se­ries A.

“I think of my grand­moth­er very fond­ly,” Sak­layen said in a call with End­points News. “That’s def­i­nite­ly been a strong un­der­ly­ing mo­ti­va­tion.”

Celli­no land­ed $80 mil­lion in a Se­ries A led by Leaps by Bay­er, the big phar­ma’s in­vest­ment arm, 8VC and the Hum­boldt Fund. Fe­li­cis Ven­tures and ex­ist­ing in­vestors The En­gine and Khosla Ven­tures al­so con­tributed. So far, the com­pa­ny has raised $96 mil­lion to date.

The com­pa­ny wants to make stem cell-based re­gen­er­a­tive med­i­cines avail­able on a wider scale for el­i­gi­ble pa­tients. Its man­u­fac­tur­ing plat­form tries to com­bine ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence and laser tech­nol­o­gy to cut back on ex­pens­es and over­come the lim­i­ta­tions that arise when try­ing to scale.

Through im­age-based ma­chine learn­ing, it trains al­go­rithms to look at im­ages and find in­fo in a con­sis­tent man­ner, some­thing that Sak­layen says ma­chines can do bet­ter than hu­mans. From there, the com­pa­ny us­es the da­ta to fig­ure out what is good, and what is not in the man­u­fac­tur­ing process.

Jür­gen Eck­hardt

Leaps has a port­fo­lio of 50 com­pa­nies and is fo­cused on po­ten­tial­ly break­through tech­nolo­gies that have spe­cif­ic tar­gets. Jür­gen Eck­hardt, the head of Leaps, said in an in­ter­view with End­points that Celli­no was an ob­vi­ous in­vest­ment for this rea­son.

“Cell ther­a­py to­day is a pret­ty la­bor-in­ten­sive process, pret­ty ex­pen­sive, and will not be avail­able for the broad mass­es as of to­day, but we want to sort of de­moc­ra­tize that process of man­u­fac­tur­ing,” Eck­hardt said. “Their vi­sion is to be a cell man­u­fac­tur­ing foundry, where you can pro­duce tar­get­ed cells at a frac­tion of the cost.”

Celli­no is even­tu­al­ly work­ing to­ward “GMP-in-a-box” — a closed sys­tem that can be dropped off at hos­pi­tals that need them to man­u­fac­ture ther­a­pies.

For now, that is an as­pi­ra­tional idea, not yet com­plete. Sak­layen says that the team is some­where in the mid­dle of the de­vel­op­ment, though there is plen­ty more to be learned be­fore tri­als.

It’s a con­cept that sev­er­al oth­er com­pa­nies — like Fabi­an Ger­ling­haus-led Cel­lares and Ger­many’s Cure­Vac — have been work­ing to­ward as well. But it’s be­come even more per­son­al for Sak­layen. Not on­ly did she lose her grand­moth­er be­fore start­ing at Har­vard, but two years ago, her great aunt was di­ag­nosed with Parkin­son’s dis­ease.

“It’s hard to see that there’s no med­ical treat­ments avail­able to her,” she said. “All of the treat­ments are deal­ing with symp­toms, not the dis­ease.”

With that mon­ey, the com­pa­ny is go­ing to boost its soft­ware, ma­chine learn­ing and hard­ware ca­pa­bil­i­ties for the end-to-end man­u­fac­tur­ing of stem cell ther­a­pies, both au­tol­o­gous and al­lo­genic.

So it will look to boost its soft­ware and ma­chine learn­ing teams with the next hir­ing wave. In the age of work-from-home flex­i­bil­i­ty and flu­id in-of­fice re­quire­ments, it could be dif­fi­cult to re­cruit work­ers to the team, es­pe­cial­ly in a re­gion as com­pet­i­tive as greater Boston. But be­cause of the work it’s do­ing, Sak­layen says that the com­pa­ny is com­mit­ted to the re­gion.

It’s lo­cat­ed in the heart of Cam­bridge, MA, on Mass­a­chu­setts Av­enue, across the street from a leg­endary con­cert venue called The Mid­dle East that held con­certs for any­one from Gary Nu­man to Vanil­la Ice, and above a restau­rant found­ed by 8-time James Beard award-win­ning chef Ken Oringer.

“As a com­pa­ny, Boston and Cam­bridge is our heart­beat,” Sak­layen said.

Biotech in­vestors and CEOs see two paths to growth, but are they equal­ly vi­able?

The dynamic in the biotech market has been highly volatile in the last few years, from the high peaks immediately after the COVID vaccine in 2021, to the lowest downturns of the last 20 years in 2022. This uncertainty makes calling the exact timing of the market’s turn something of a fool’s errand, according to Dr. Chen Yu, Founder and Managing Partner of TCG Crossover (TCG X). He speaks with RBC’s Noël Brown, Head of US Biotechnology Investment Banking, about the market’s road ahead and two possible paths for growth.

Casey McPherson shows his daughters Rose (left) and Weston around Everlum Bio, a lab that he co-founded to spark a treatment for Rose and others with ultra-rare conditions. (Ilana Panich-Linsman)

Fa­ther starts lab af­ter in­tel­lec­tu­al prop­er­ty is­sues stymie rare dis­ease drug de­vel­op­ment

Under bright lab lights, Casey McPherson holds his 6-year-old daughter, Rose. His free hand directs Rose’s gaze toward a computer screen with potential clues in treating her one-of-a kind genetic condition.

Gray specks on the screen show her cells that scientists reprogrammed with the goal of zeroing in on a custom medicine. McPherson co-founded the lab, Everlum Bio, to spark a treatment for Rose — and others like her. A regarded singer-songwriter, McPherson never imagined going into drug development.

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Vlad Coric, Biohaven CEO

Vlad Coric charts course for new Bio­haven with neu­ro­science push and Big Phar­ma vets on board

What’s Biohaven without its CGRP portfolio? That’s what CEO Vlad Coric is tasked with deciding as he maps out the new Biohaven post-Pfizer takeover.

Pfizer officially scooped up Biohaven’s CGRP assets on Monday, including blockbuster migraine drug Nurtec and the investigational zavegepant, for $11.6 billion. As a result, Coric spun the broader pipeline into an independent company on Tuesday — with the same R&D team behind Nurtec but about 1,000 fewer staffers and a renewed focus on neuroscience and rare disease.

In AstraZeneca's latest campaign, wild eosinophils called Phils personify the acting up often seen in uncontrolled asthma

As­traZeneca de­buts an­noy­ing pur­ple ‘Phil’ crea­tures, per­son­i­fied asth­ma eosinophils ‘be­hav­ing bad­ly’

There are some odd-looking purple creatures lurking around the halls of AstraZenca lately. The “Phil” character cutouts are purple, personified eosinophils with big buggy eyes and wide mouths, and they’re a part of AZ’s newest awareness effort to help people understand eosinophilic asthma.

The “Asthma Behaving Badly” characters aren’t only on the walls at AZ to show the new campaign to employees, however. The “Phils” are also showing up online on the campaign website, and in digital and social ads and posts on Facebook and Instagram.

Christophe Bourdon, Leo Pharma CEO

Leo Phar­ma looks 'be­yond the skin' in atopic der­mati­tis aware­ness cam­paign

As Leo Pharma aims to take on heavyweight champ Dupixent in atopic dermatitis, the company is launching “AD Days Around the World,” an awareness campaign documenting real patient stories across Europe.

The project, unveiled on Monday, spotlights four patients: Marjolaine, Laura, Julia and África from France, Italy, Germany and Spain, respectively, in short video clips on the challenges of living with AD, the most common form of eczema.

Mar­ket­ingRx roundup: No­var­tis re­cruits NFL coach for Leqvio cam­paign; Pfiz­er pro­motes ‘Sci­ence’ merch on so­cial me­dia

Novartis is turning to a winning coach to talk about Leqvio and the struggles of high cholesterol — including his own. Bruce Arians, the retired NFL head coach of the Arizona Cardinals and Super Bowl-winning Tampa Bay Buccaneers, is partnering with the pharma for its “Coaching Cholesterol” digital, social and public relations effort.

In the campaign, Arians talks about the potential for “great comebacks” in football and heart health. Once nicknamed a “quarterback whisperer,” he is now retired from fulltime coaching (although still a front-office consultant for Tampa Bay), and did a round of media interviews for Novartis, including one with People and Forbes.

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Amy West, Novo Nordisk head of US digital innovation and transformation (Illustration: Assistant Editor Kathy Wong for Endpoints News)

Q&A: No­vo Nordisk dig­i­tal in­no­va­tion chief Amy West dis­cuss­es phar­ma pain points and a health­care 'easy but­ton’

Amy West joined Novo Nordisk more than a decade ago to oversee marketing strategies and campaigns for its US diabetes portfolio. However, her career path shifted into digital, and she hasn’t looked back. West went from leading Novo’s first digital health strategy in the US to now heading up digital innovation and transformation.

She’s currently leading the charge at Novo Nordisk to not only go beyond the pill with digital marketing and health tech, but also test, pilot and develop groundbreaking new strategies needed in today’s consumerized healthcare world.

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Benjamine Liu, TrialSpark CEO

Paul Hud­son and Tri­alSpark's mu­tu­al de­sire to speed up de­vel­op­ment con­verges in three-year, six-drug goal

A unicorn startup that originally set out to hasten clinical studies for biopharma partners dug further into its revised path of internal drug development by linking arms with Sanofi in a pact that the biotech’s CEO said originated from the top.

TrialSpark and the Big Pharma on Tuesday committed to in-licensing and/or acquiring six Phase II/Phase III drugs within the next three years.

“I’ve known Paul Hudson for a while and we were discussing the opportunity to really re-imagine a lot of different parts of pharma,” TrialSpark CEO Benjamine Liu told Endpoints News, “and one of the things that we discussed was this opportunity to accelerate the development of new medicines in mutual areas of interest.”

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Ying Huang, Legend CEO

Lentivi­ral vec­tor ramp-up: J&J and Leg­end to in­vest $500M in New Jer­sey man­u­fac­tur­ing to sup­port Carvyk­ti

In response to a question on manufacturing scale at Legend Biotech’s R&D day yesterday, the company’s top exec said its partnership with Johnson & Johnson will be doubling its investment in its New Jersey manufacturing center and will be investing a total of $500 million.

With an eye on their BCMA-directed CAR-T therapy Carvykti (cilta-cel), approved in February as a fifth-line treatment for multiple myeloma, Legend CEO Ying Huang said that the ramp-up in production and the decision to manufacture its own lentiviral vectors — currently in shortage worldwide — means they won’t have to deal with that shortage.