Celularity emerges from SPAC merger doubled down on cell therapies as Bob Hariri downgrades ill-fated Covid-19 program
It took a few months longer than expected, but Bob Hariri has finally guided Celularity and its placental-derived cells to Wall Street.
Merging with GX Acquisition Corp gives Celularity $138 million to work with as Hariri pushes the NK cell and T cell therapies deeper into early-stage trials.
The biotech, which has drawn attention for a high-profile effort to test an NK cell infusion early in the pandemic, has all but thrown in the towel on Covid-19, prioritizing instead cancer indications such as acute myeloid leukemia and glioblastoma multiforme — conforming closer to its peers in cell therapy.
“The change in management of patients at the hospital setting made it very very difficult to find patients who met the inclusion criteria,” Hariri told Endpoints News. “And most patients were being delegated into other trials.”
While the trial was designed to enroll 86 patients with mild to moderate Covid-19 symptoms, Celularity ended up giving their NK cell therapy to fewer than 10. Still, Hariri maintains his team was “very encouraged” by the early data. They will continue to monitor the patients and publish the data at some point, although the CEO didn’t commit to a time just yet.
The plan is to revisit viral illness when the opportunity arises.
Hariri was more eager to talk about data from the AML study involving CYNK-001 — in particular, a single patient who saw a conversion from minimal residual disease positive to MRD negative. More results are coming in the fall, he added, while they test the same non-genetically engineered cells in GBM and a second, CD19-targeting CAR-T for B cell malignancies.
There’s a long way to go in proving the technology’s worth, especially as the race for cell therapies that are at once effective, safe, cheap to make and sport a fast turnaround time continues to heat up, with multiple well-funded startups boasting that their approaches — whether autologous or off-the-shelf — would plug any number of the shortcomings that came with the first generation of personalized CAR-T therapies.
For Celularity, the pitch centers on the unique features of pluripotent stem cells found in the placenta, which Hariri says is a superior starting material to, say, induced pluripotent stem cells or adult donor cells that get turned into other off-the-shelf products because of persistence and “enhanced stemness.” Then there’s the manufacturing piece.
“From one placenta we can produce hundreds of thousands of doses of pluripotent cells, and from one placenta we’re currently producing many hundreds to thousands of doses of NK cells,” Hariri said.
He’s also hedging his bets by going a different direction into Crohn’s disease, where he believes the placental pluripotent cells can make good treatments for inflammation.
All those clinical programs have kept the team fairly busy, Hariri said, which was a big reason why they chose to go public via the popular SPAC pathway — saving them the more onerous process of a separate crossover round followed by IPO. The merger, which was scheduled to close in April but got delayed due to new SEC regulations, officially closed Friday, paving the way for Celularity to start trading under the ticker $CELU.
“So we’re gonna arrive at where we wanted to be, and we’ll have capital to prosecute our business plan,” he said.