Bayer, Versant join forces on $225M Series A for stem cell upstart

In one of the biggest Series A funding rounds ever recorded for a biotech, Germany’s Bayer and Versant Ventures have stumped up $225 million for the launch of BlueRock Therapeutics.

The startup, which is being hailed by the pair as a “next-generation regenerative medicine company” plans to develop best-in-class induced pluripotent stem cell (iPSC) therapies. Its initial focus will be on CNS and CV disease areas, the companies said in a joint statement.

Its beefy funding round should give BlueRock Therapeutics “at least four years of runway and will allow the new company to advance a number of programs into the clinic,” Bayer said.

“Accessing cell based therapies is part of Bayer's strategy. We are launching this enterprise to develop transformative and curative therapies for patients based on the latest stem cell technology,” said Kemal Malik, member of the board of management of Bayer.

“We have partnered with Versant Ventures to build a leading player in this field by securing exclusive access to these breakthrough technologies for BlueRock Therapeutics.”

BlueRock Therapeutics’ platform comes from a series of strategic partnerships with a number of academic and industry collaborators in the U.S., Canada and Japan.

On the R&D side, it will have ops in Toronto, New York and Boston, with its initial program focused on regenerating heart muscle in patients who have had a heart attack.

The program is being worked on in a collab pact with the Toronto-based McEwen Centre for Regenerative Medicine and University Health Network with Dr. Gordon Keller, a leader in stem cell biology, and a scientific co-founder of BlueRock.

“The goal of the program is to restore the electrical and contractile function of injured hearts through remuscularization with pluripotent stem cell-derived cardiomyocytes,” the biotech said.

Manufacturing meanwhile is being done under a partnership with the Toronto-based CCRM, a co that works on regenerative medicine tech, as well as cell and gene therapies.

Bayer’s venture arm has had a good year after recently forming a gene editing biotech, known as Casebia, with CRISPR Therapeutics, a biotech co-founded by Versant which recently went public.

Stem cell therapies have seen a number of setbacks in recent years, including for those companies seeking to help CV patients. One of the more recent is BioCardia, which dropped its $50 million attempted IPO this year, eventually having to go for a reverse merger deal. Its treatment uses a heart failure patient’s own bone marrow cells (collected from their hip bone). 

And In the summer, Israeli generics giant Teva returned the full rights of a phase 3 experimental stem cell heart drug back to Mesoblast as it walked away from development.