Flagship upstart Cellarity gathers $123M to finance its exploration of cell behavior, blazing a new path to building a broad pipeline
Right from the start, the discovery plan at Flagship-spawned Cellarity was to take their cues from cell biology and follow them to new drugs. Rather than start with a target and develop a drug to hit it, they’d use new technology to digitally map cell behavior and then develop new drugs from what they learned.
“Over the past decades it has always been about finding a target, about reducing a disease to a single molecular target,” says Fabrice Chouraqui, the Novartis vet who was recruited to run the operation about 9 months ago. “And that approach has produced thousands of life-saving medicines. Yet, this approach has limitations. A molecular target approach is fine when you talk about a simple disease, but for very complex diseases like neurodegeneration, like metabolic disease, like cancer, you hope to really harness the complexity of human biology.
“We developed a drug discovery platform to design medicines at the level of the cell, which as we both know is the fundamental of life,” says the CEO.
Network biology, high resolution data and the right machine learning tools give them better insights into understanding “how a cell moves from a state of health to a state of disease.”
For the staff at Cellarity, that approach has helped create a variety of preclinical discovery projects. And now there’s $123 million more to finance the next leg of the exploration as they continue the pipeline work, with maybe 1 or 2 more years to go before they reach the clinic.
“We’ve been able to really progress our pipeline,” says Chouraqui. “Today we have 7 drug discovery programs in 4 different disease areas and I think those 4 disease areas really showcase the breadth and the depth of our platform; they range from metabolic disease to immuno-oncology. I think we are getting closer to move into the clinic. The goal is not to rush into the clinic with one program, we have a platform which can be virtually applied to any disease area.”
And now they have the money to work up a stream of new drug programs. But that’s about as detailed as the public story gets at this stage of the journey. Like most startups, it’s best to get to the late preclinical stage before you start opening up about how the lead therapies work.
The insider story, though, was good enough to bring in an expanded syndicate for the rich round. BlackRock, The Baupost Group, Banque Pictet and 8 other unnamed investors have jumped in to grab a front row seat in the lab. And Chouraqui plans to do some active recruiting to double the size of the staff this year.