8:21 AM
Dec 22, 2016
 |  BC Innovations  |  Finance

Starting up stem cells

How Bayer and Versant are betting on iPS cell therapies with BlueRock startup

In launching BlueRock Therapeutics with a $225 million series A round, comprehensive IP portfolio and set of strategic partnerships, Versant Ventures and Bayer AG are sending a message they are not only ready to go full-throttle in regenerative medicine; they’ve done the thinking all the way through to clinical testing. The money should last a good four years, but the partners want to be in the clinic in less than half that time.

Last week, the partners announced they were creating BlueRock to develop induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cell-based therapies for myocardial infarction (MI) and Parkinson’s disease. The company is one of the most well-funded start-ups in biotech history, coming behind only Immunocore Ltd., a T cell therapy company that raised a $320 million series A round last year.

“On paper, BlueRock looks like a start-up, but we’re positioning the company in such a way that it could quickly become a global leader in stem cell technology,” said Jerel Davis, a managing director at Versant.

The $225 million investment is more than half the total venture dollars invested in regenerative medicine companies this year or last, and outstrips the amount for every year since 2006, bar 2014 when chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T cell company Juno Therapeutics Inc. completed two venture rounds totaling $310 million (see “Table: Regenerative Venture”).

It’s a bold move in a field where the biology is moving fast, but there’s overall wariness among investors due to the unsure regulatory landscape and the shadow of recent failures, such as the June closure of StemCells Inc. and the 2014 bankruptcy of Tengion Inc.

“Versant’s approach is to bet on bold new frontiers that have major potential for patients,” said Davis. “Five or ten years ago, we prioritized regenerative medicine, brought together luminaries in the area and asked them where to invest in the regenerative medicine space. At that time, none suggested cell therapies. Fast forward five years and we believe now is the time to invest in...

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