Century Therapeutics, Philadelphia, says it has raised $250 million from German drugmaker Bayer, Fujifilm Cellular Dynamics Inc., and its investment parent, San Francisco-based Versant Ventures, to fight blood cancers and solid tumors using adult stem cells produced through Century’s industrial process, which can use any similar donor to build treatments.
“We are very excited about the potential of Century’s platform,” said Juergen Eckhardt, head of Leaps by Bayer, the drug maker’s venture capital arm. He called it " a unique opportunity in the development of next generation cell therapies that promise to address previously incurable cancers.”
First-generation cell therapies, like those developed by Novartis at the University of Pennsylvania, use a time-consuming process that collects immune cells from each individual patient. Allogeneic cell therapies use pluripotent stem cells that have an unlimited self-renewing capacity, enabling multiple rounds of cellular engineering to make cancer-fighting cells.
Century was started last year by Versant. Cofounders include Osvaldo “Lalo” Flores, a former Merck executive who ran Versant-backed Novira Therapeutics of Doylestown. Century late last year began working with Fujifilm Cellular, a unit of the film-making company, to turn Century formulas into cancer treatments using Fujifilm Cellular’s cell reproduction technology, which manipulates allogeneic (similar) cells to fight targeted tumors, rather than needing exact matches from donors.
“Versant believes that allogeneic reagents represent the next wave of innovation in cell therapy," and plans to use Century “to engineer truly off-the-shelf products” to treat blood cancers and solid tumors, said Carlo Rizzuto, , a Versant partner and Century director. “Today’s financing marks an important milestone in our effort to enable cell therapies to treat a much broader array of cancer patients.”
“I am grateful to have their experience to guide the development of our promising allogeneic cell therapies for cancers," said Flores in a statement. His scientific co-founders include Harvard Medical School immunotherapist Marcela Maus, and Stanford geneticist Hiro Nakauchi.