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Bayer helps bankroll new stem cell company BlueRock

Start-up receives $225m to develop cardiovascular and neurodegenerative disease therapies
Bayer

There is a new player on the stem cell therapy stage, thanks to $225m in start-up funding from Bayer and investment firm Versant Futures.

BlueRock Therapeutics comes into being with one of the largest debut financings ever granted to a biotech company, and is the second start-up to be backed by Bayer's investment arm BLSC after gene-editing specialist Casebia last year.

Described as a "next-generation regenerative medicine company", BlueRock will focus on the use of pluripotent stem cells (PSCs) to cure a range of diseases and starts life with four years of operating cash - enough to bring its first programmes into the clinic, according to Bayer. The start-up's early efforts will be on cardiovascular and neurodegenerative diseases.

BlueRock's founding and scientific investigation team includes Dr Michael Laflamme, a cardiac cell therapy pioneer, and eminent stem cell expert Dr Gordon Keller, so it is no surprise that one of its early projects will be to explore the use of PSCs to regenerate heart muscle in patients who have had a heart attack.

That project takes it into an increasingly competitive field, with companies such as Amorcyte, Cell Therapy, Celixir, Cytori and Mesocyte all working on cell-based therapies to try to achieve myocardial regeneration in heart attack and heart failure patients.

Meanwhile, two other co-founders and scientific investigators are developmental biologist Dr Lorenz Studer and neurosurgeon Viviane Tabar, who will spearhead a project aimed at restoring dopamine-producing cells in patients with Parkinson's disease.

"We have closely tracked the field of regenerative medicine for the past five years and believe the time is right to invest in stem cell therapies given recent breakthroughs in cell differentiation, manufacturing and engineering," commented Dr Jerel Davis, managing director at Versant Ventures.

The birth of the new company also comes at an opportune time with the passage in the US of the 21st Century Cures Act, which promises to introduce a truncated registration pathway for regenerative medicines.

BlueRock will have research and development operations in Toronto, New York and Boston and has already signed a manufacturing agreement with the Toronto-based Centre for Commercialising Regenerative Medicines (CCRM).

Article by
Phil Taylor

13th December 2016

From: Research

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