Cell therapy startup raises $16 million to fund its quest for the Holy Grail in regenerative medicine
In 2006, Shinya Yamanaka shook stem cell research with his discovery that mature cells can be converted into stem cells, relieving a longstanding political-ethical blockage and throwing open medical research on everything from curbing eye degeneration to organ printing.
But that process still has pitfalls, including in risk and scalability, and some researchers are exploring another way first hinted at years ago: new technology to convert mature cells directly into other mature cells without the complex and time-consuming process of first making them into stem cells.
One of those companies, Mogrify, just raised $16 million in Series A financing to bring its overall funding to over $20 million since its February launch. Led by CEO Darrin Disley, the funding will help expand their new base in Cambridge to a 60-strong staff and push forward their direct-conversion approach to cell therapy through research and licensing. Investors include Parkwalk Advisors and Ahren Innovation Capital.
They list potential applications as treatments for musculoskeletal and auto-immune disorders, cancer immunotherapy, and therapies for ocular and respiratory diseases. For example, you could use it regenerate cartilage in arthritis patients.
“If you could take a cell from one part of the body and turn it into any other cell at any other stage of development for another part of the body, you effectively have the Holy Grail of regenerative medicine,” Disley told Labiotech.eu in April.
Mogrify’s advantage over the Yamanaka method called induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS), is that in theory it can be more scalable and avoid the problems associated with iPS. These include instabilities arising from the induced immature state and an increased risk of cancer if any pluripotent cells remain in the body.
The concept behind Mogrify actually predates, by nearly 19 years, Yamanaka’s discovery, which fast won him the 2012 Nobel Prize in Medicine. A 2017 Nature study on “transdifferentiation,” as the process is called, of fibroblasts into cardiac tissue traced the idea to a 1987 finding that a master gene regulator could convert mice fibroblasts into skeletal muscle.
The problem though, according to Mogrify, is that most current efforts rely on an exhausting guess-and-check process. With hundreds of cell types and an even greater number of transcription factors — the program that recodes the cell — finding the right factor for the right cell can be like a custodian with a jangling, unmarked key ring trying to get into a building with thousands of locks.
Mogrify’s key tech is a computer model they say can predict the right combination. The scientists behind the platform published a 2016 study in Nature applying the model to 173 human cell types and 134 tissues.
Before Mogrify, Disley led the Cambridge-based gene-editing company Horizon Discovery.