In another sign that the long, cold winter for regenerative medicine may be coming to an end, The Column Group led a $33 million startup round for Surrozen, a new Bay Area biotech coming out of the labs at Stanford.
The key figure in this startup is Christopher Garcia, a Stanford investigator who’s been drawn into the world of Wnt. While much of his labor has centered on cancer research, he’s also spent time developing Wnt surrogates that can play the same role as the natural proteins in forming tissue and spurring repair, but hopefully with better drug-like properties that will make them simpler to manufacture and test in humans.
If you get an excess of Wnt activity, says Tim Kutzkey, the managing partner at The Column Group who is shepherding the investment in Surrozen, it’s easy to see how Wnt could play in role in cancer. But Kutzkey been more attracted to the regenerative side of that equation.
As Kutzkey tells it, Wnt has been a frustrating field.
“They’re difficult to handle, produce, also difficult to tune,” he says. “Wnt could be a very powerful tool; how to advance them in drug development has stymied folks for some time.”
Now Surrozen will see if the surrogates can overcome the obstacles.
The academic founders also include Roeland Nusse, a Howard Hughes investigator at Stanford, along with Calvin Kuo and Claudia Janda. The board also tilts to high sciences, with Harold Varmus, MD, co-recipient of the 1989 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine and Lewis Thomas University Professor of Medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine and Wen-Chen Yeh, MD, PhD, chief scientific officer of Surrozen.
Right now Surrozen has a staff of 18, says Kutzkey, with enough cash on hand to get through the next 2.5 to 3 years of research work, advancing preclinical programs toward human studies. But there’s no question this is an early play.
Regenerative medicine and stem cell research went through a popular surge in California, with little to show for it by way of usable new therapeutic technologies. Now, though, after the first wave of hype has ebbed away, companies like Frequency Therapeutics and a new $225 million joint venture between Versant and Bayer dubbed BlueRock have stepped up take a new, perhaps better informed shot at the field. Surrozen thinks it can be part of the renaissance.
The company will set up at Oyster Point in South San Francisco, part of a burgeoning Bay Area hub that has been attracting a range of biotechs and Big Pharma groups.
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