New biotech Semma Therapeutics joins ViaCyte & Betalogics in stem cell Diabetes arena

Semma Therapeutics

Semma’s technology director Felicia Pagliuca, with CEO Robert Millman. Boston Globe Picture

A new biotech startup, Semma Therapeutics, announced that it seeks to fight diabetes via translating technology from the lab of Doug Melton at Harvard to the clinic.

Another major player in cell therapy-based arena for Diabetes is most likely good news for patients.

Quoted in the Boston Globe, there is a good deal of enthusiasm about the potential of this kind of therapeutic approach:

“This would be a huge breakthrough,” said Dr. George L. King, a Harvard Medical School professor and research director at Joslin Diabetes Center. “It could cure diabetes.”

Semma TherapeuticsSemma will have to compete with ViaCyte and Betalogics, which could prove challenging given, for example, that ViaCyte already has an ongoing FDA-approved clinical trial. Still Semma has raised more than $40 million, which is a good start, and this capital came from some known bio-investment players:

“Sensing a business opportunity at the juncture of stem cells and diabetes, venture firms MPM Capital, Fidelity Biosciences of Cambridge, and Arch Venture Partners of Chicago are teaming with Minneapolis-based medical technology giant Medtronic plc to back Semma in the company’s first round of financing.”

Two of the leaders of Semma are former Melton lab postdoc Felicia Pagliuca, and CEO Robert Millman. Pagliuca was first author on a high-profile Melton lab paper in Cell published just about half a year ago and post-pub reviewed on this blog.

The Semma website has more information.

Why the name Semma?

I’m not sure.

There is a SEMMA acronym in high-tech:

Sample, Explore, Modify, Model, Assess.

It’ll be exciting to see how Semma performs and more broadly how cell therapy-based approaches to Diabetes evolve. I view Semma coming on the scene as a positive.

Viacyte & Mesoblast present at CIRM Meeting

Allan Robins ViacyteAllan Robins of Viacyte (pictured at left–sorry for the fuzzy image) and Paul Simmons of Mesoblast presented this morning at the CIRM Grantee Meeting.

Both talks were outstanding.

Robins went first. He started by saying how Viacyte had a productive pre-IND meeting with the FDA last year.

I believe a target for them is to have IND in Q1 of 2014 and hopefully move to the clinical trials soon after.

I gotta say I love Viacyte’s technology. Having a frozen product that then can be recovered in culture for 3 days before loading into the capsule seems like a big plus.

Simmons also gave an interesting talk on Mesoblast’s status. Quite impressive.

I find it astounding just how big their pipeline is. They have perhaps as many as 10 products. They also have an impressive number of trials already ongoing based on allogeneic off-the-shelf products based on mesenchymal progenitor cells (MPCs).

Simmons posed a hypothetical question that people sometimes ask the company related to trophic factors made by MPCs, “Why don’t you just use the trophic factors that are secreted as the therapy”. Simmons’ reply was both humorous and encouraging, “These cells are quite intelligent!”

MPCs secrete just the right combo of factors as instructed by a given environment.

Both talks were great and I think these companies have strong potential to help thousands of patients within a decade.

Disclosure: I am not an investor in either company nor currently any company in the stem cell field.