Arch-backed Sana bags Harvard off-the-shelf cell therapy tech

Sana Biotechnology has licensed technology from Harvard University to further its efforts to develop off-the-shelf cell therapies. The goal is to genetically modify and differentiate stem cells to create cell therapies that are cloaked from the immune system.

Details of Sana and its big ambitions first emerged in January. The biotech is helmed by former Juno Therapeutics CFO Steve Harr and has secured support from Arch, Flagship and F-Prime. Working out of sites on both coasts, Sana plans to harness these resources to create off-the-shelf cell therapies capable of treating a range of diseases.

To achieve that goal, Sana will need to find ways to stop the immune system from rejecting the cells as non-self. Chad Cowan, CSO of Sana, worked on technology designed to protect cells from immune attacks at Harvard.

Cowan’s approach, which Sana licensed exclusively for use in therapeutics, entails tweaking the genetics of human pluripotent stem cells to dial down production of proteins that could activate the immune system. A patent filed by Cowan and his collaborators describes the modification of the B2M gene to eliminate expression of MHC Class I protein on the cell surface. 

These cloaked cells are then differentiated into other cell types with therapeutic potential, such as insulin-producing pancreatic beta cells. In theory, the cells can address many diseases underpinned by the loss or damage of existing cells, including diabetes, types of heart disease and liver conditions. 

Sana also tapped Harvard for a non-exclusive license to technology for performing high-efficiency, ex vivo genome editing. Cowan’s research group used CRISPR/Cas9 to remove genes that encode for cell surface proteins.

The research moved out of academia via the Blavatnik Biomedical Accelerator, an entity at Harvard designed to bring technology up to the point that the industry gets involved. The accelerator, which lists the president of F-Prime among the members of its advisory committee, was set up by a grant from the same foundation that gave Harvard $200 million last year to accelerate early-stage R&D.