Sana Biotechnology snags Oscine, adding cell therapy leader Steve Goldman to its star-studded staff
Sana Biotechnology CEO Steve Harr began kicking around the idea of acquiring Oscine early on in the companies’ partnership. About a year ago, over dinner with the University of Rochester Medical Center spinout’s CEO and scientific founder, he pulled the trigger.
The partners realized it was “the right thing to do. (And) then it usually takes a lot longer than you hope… to get things done,” Harr said. On Friday, the companies announced they got it done.
Harr listed a few things that drew him to Oscine. First, there were the biotech’s glial progenitor cells, which it had been developing to treat a number of brain diseases. Then there were compelling animal data, and the fact that Oscine was headed toward IND-enabling and toxicology studies. And finally, there was Steve Goldman — longtime cell therapy expert and Oscine’s scientific founder.
“People really do matter here, because the biology is so complex and we really do rely on deep expertise,” Harr said.
Goldman joins Sana’s star-studded staff, which is packed with industry experts like the legendary Harvard geneticist Richard Mulligan (now executive vice chairman). There’s also head of T cell therapeutics Terry Fry, who formerly helmed the hematologic malignancies section of the NIH’s pediatric oncology branch; chief technical officer Ed Rebar, who hails from Sangamo Therapeutics; and cell therapy CSO Chuck Murry, who co-founded the Institute for Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine in 2008.
The fledgling biotech, one of this year’s Endpoints 11 startups, has raised over $700 million to fund its mission: manipulating or controlling genes to repair or replace any cell in the body.
“I find that I always learn something from him. If you take the time to listen, I think most will,” Harr said, about Goldman. “His deep expertise will be very important… in our central nervous system research effort,” he added later.
Back in the 1980s, Goldman helped pioneer neurogenesis research in songbirds with Rockefeller University professor Fernando Nottebohm. They built on the initial research of Joseph Altman, who studied neurogenesis in rats in the 1960s. Before, scientists had long believed that new neurons don’t form after birth, Harr explained.
Goldman went on to become a professor and chairman of the University of Rochester’s neurology department, and chief of the school’s division of cell and gene therapy. He’s published over 250 papers and served as a voting member of the FDA’s cellular, tissue, and gene therapy advisory committee — and now he’ll head Sana’s CNS therapeutics team.
Sana is looking to target a host of CNS conditions, which Harr called “missing cell diseases” where patients are missing oligodendrocytes or astrocytes, the “support network” of the brain. “If we replace them… that could have a very large impact,” Harr said. Oscine was working on therapies for several myelin-related and neurodegenerative disorders, including Pelizaeus-Merzbacher disease, secondary progressive MS and Huntington’s disease.
The companies are keeping the financial terms of the deal under wraps for now, and Harr declined to comment on when a candidate might reach the clinic.
“With some of these diseases that impact patients with no alternatives, I want to make sure that we create realistic expectations, not a false sense of hope,” Harr said about announcing a potential clinical timeline.
“After three decades of research into how to repair the cellular structure of the diseased brain, it is heartening to know that Sana plans to urgently drive these therapies to the clinic to explore their potential benefit for the many patients and their families stricken with these largely incurable diseases,” Goldman said in a statement.