Darrin Disley takes CEO role at cell therapy startup

Darrin Disley. (Cell Mogrify)

Cell Mogrify has named ex-Horizon Discovery CEO Darrin Disley as its leader. Disley joined Mogrify and participated in its seed round to advance technology for direct reprogramming between mature cell types.

Cambridge, U.K.-based Mogrify is built upon efforts to identify combinations of transcription factors and small molecules that convert one mature cell type into another mature cell type. If successful, the efforts will eliminate the need to use pluripotent stem cell- and progenitor cell-states as steppingstones on route to the creation of a new mature cell type. 

This direct conversion process, known as transdifferentiation, has the potential to generate cell types with the safety and efficacy profiles, plus the scalability, needed to succeed as therapeutics. With the cell therapy sector poised to take off, that potential caught the attention of Disley.

“Direct reprogramming between mature human cell types is a holy grail of regenerative medicine and pharmaceutical applications,” Disley said in a statement. 

Disley, who has had a hand in more than 40 startups and grew Horizon into a gene editing leader, has backed up his words with actions, taking over as CEO of Mogrify and putting in seed funding. Ahren Innovation Capital and 24Haymarket joined Disley in the seed round, resulting in Mogrify raising $3.7 million (€3.3 million) to support its early activities. 

Mogrify is planning to raise a series A round that will give it significantly more money to fund its work to build a business upon its computational framework for predicting how to directly reprogram cells. Disley said Mogrify will commercialize the technology through “IP licensing, product development, internal and partnered drug development.”

The emergence of Mogrify as a startup with commercial aspirations follows years of scientific work. As there are around 2,000 transcription factors and 400 human cell types, the science of direct cell reprogramming is likely to advance slowly if it relies on educated guesses of the best combinations of conversion drivers. 

Mogrify wants to make the identification of the combinations more scalable and efficient using a computational framework that makes predictions based on gene expression data and regulatory network information. In 2016, Mogrify co-founder Julian Gough and his collaborators discussed their progress toward that goal in a paper detailing the ability of their framework to correctly predict the transcription factors that facilitate two then-novel transdifferentiation mechanisms. 

Back then, Mogrify had applied the framework to 173 cell types and 134 tissues and validated it by correctly predicting known and novel transdifferentiation routes. Three years later, Mogrify is gearing up for the next stage of its evolution.