Research Engine

Semma Therapeutics raises $114 million in Series B financing for Type 1 diabetes novel cell therapy

With significant operations in both Cambridge and Providence, Semma Therapeutics offers a glimpse of the potential future regional research sandbox

Screen image courtesy of Semma Therapeutics website

An image from the website of Semma Therapeutics.

By Richard Asinof
Posted 12/4/17
The successful completion of $114 million in Series B financing by Semma Therapeutics promises to have a big impact on potential expansion of Semma Therapeutics’ operations in Rhode Island.
How can the evolving relationship exemplified by Semma Therapeutics operations in both Cambridge and Providence serve as a model for future regional collaboration of research enterprises? What are the potential expansions in jobs and facilities for the Providence operations of Semma Therapeutics? What are the ways that clinical translational research at Brown University medical school might become more involved with Semma Therapeutics efforts on proof-of-concept testing on patients?

The recent success by CommerceRI to attract companies to relocate in Rhode Island, including Infosys, Virgin Pulse, Johnson & Johnson, and GE, has tended to overshadow the research engine and the world-class scientific talent here in Rhode Island as an important, long-term economic driver that does not fit within the boundaries of an electoral cycle.
Instead of seeking to attract more tourist dollars, perhaps there is a need to better understand what is needed to attract and retain world-class scientific research talent as an economic drive – and how best to nurture the culture that supports them.

PROVIDENCE – The big news, of course, is the report that CVS Health has agreed to buy Aetna in a $69 billion deal that, if approved by regulators, would reshape the entire national health care landscape, blurring the lines between retail pharmacies, health insurers and pharmacy benefits managers. One of the plans reported under consideration is to transform many of the CVS storefronts into mini-medical offices.

The CVS-Aetna deal, in turn, is expected to spur a new round of mergers, acquisitions and consolidations in the health care and big box store marketplace.

In Rhode Island, the biggest question is what will happen with CVS’s headquarters in Woonsocket, where space is already at a premium for workers, according to sources. Could a move to a new location – in Rhode Island or elsewhere – be in the works?

But, occurring underneath the radar screen is a significant news story for Rhode Island’s research engine and bio-innovation ecosystem: Semma Therapeutics, a biotech company headquartered in Cambridge, Mass., announced on Nov. 30 that it had completed what it said was a “highly oversubscribed” $114 million in Series B financing.

The latest round of financing builds upon the Series A financing that raised $44 million in venture funding in 2015. With the new $114 million in financing in hand, Semma Therapeutics plans to invest in its lead program, a novel cell therapy for Type 1 diabetes, launching the next phase of the its clinical proof of concept in patients, according to the company’s news release.

“I’m very pleased and impressed to see how far the science has progressed at Semma; what the team has accomplished from a development perspective on both the biology side and engineering side is remarkable,” said Douglas Melton, Semma Therapeutics founder and board observer in the news release announcing the Series B round of funding.

Melton continued: “Semma's scientists have very effectively dedicated themselves to systems that reliably generate cells indistinguishable from human pancreatic beta cells and to the invention of novel devices that are immunologically protective and surgically practical. We’re very encouraged and excited about the potential this program has for diabetic patients and their families.”

Relevance to Rhode Island
The news is particularly relevant to Rhode Island, because in 2015, Semma Therapeutics acquired CytoSolv, Inc., and since then, has invested in the expansion of its Rhode Island operations, which have been dubbed by some observers as Semma South.

Dr. Moses Goddard, the co-founder of CytoSolv, currently serves as the chief medical officer at Semma Therapeutics.

And Christopher G. Thanos, also a co-founder of CytoSolv, currently serves as vice president of Delivery at Semma Therapeutics.

Beyond the shared talent pool and physical locations in both Cambridge and Providence is the evolving nature of the relationship, providing a potential pathway to develop some best practices for how Rhode Island and Boston-Cambridge can learn to play in the future regional sandbox together.

As with the CVS-Aetna deal, many of the details with Semma Therapeutics next round of potential expansion and hiring are not yet known.

But what can be put into perspective is a bit of history.

Pioneering research enterprise in Rhode Island
As reported by ConvergenceRI in 2015, “The acquisition of CytoSolv by Semma Therapeutics underscores the legacy of Rhode Island’s pioneering research scientists in the biotech world, dating back to 1988, with the founding of Cellular Transplants, Inc., a genesis that helped to spawn new biotech firms such as CytoTherapeutics, Neurotech, LCT BioPharma, and NsGene, along with CytoSolv. [See link below to ConvergenceRI story, “RI biotech firm CytoSolv acquired by Semma Therapeutics.]

“CytoSolv is a particularly compelling example of how scientists in Rhode Island’s life science research enterprise are capable of commanding a role on a world-class stage,” said Richard G. Horan, senior managing director of the Slater Technology Fund, which had invested some $500,000 in CytoSolv to help launch the company.

“In this case, the scientific legacy goes back to the earliest days of biotech in Rhode Island, to distinguished researchers such as Pierre Galletti and Patrick Aebischer and Michael Lysaght, all of whom played pioneering roles in the development of the enabling technology. We are thrilled to be part of this exciting endeavor.”

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