Garuda thinks it has cracked the code to off-the-shelf stem cell transplants—and investors are betting $72M to find out

We know blood stem cell transplants are potential cures for serious diseases. The problem is, patients need cells from immune-compatible donors, creating a supply bottleneck that constrains use in some areas and blocks expansion into new diseases. Garuda Therapeutics thinks it may have come up with a fix for that problem—and has persuaded investors to bet $72 million on its vision.

Massachusetts-based Garuda landed the investment on the strength of its platform for generating off-the-shelf, self-renewing blood stem cells. Equipped with the platform, Garuda wants to eliminate the need for healthcare providers to find matched donor materials or use a patient’s own cells. If the platform works as it hopes, Garuda thinks it can treat more than 70 diseases such as blood cancers, sickle cell disease, beta thalassemia and bone marrow failure.

Investors have bought into Garuda’s plans. Aisling Capital, Northpond Ventures and Orbimed led the series A round with the support of Cormorant Asset Management, Ridgeback Capital Investments and other backers. 

Garuda’s statement to disclose its series A funding gives little away about how the platform works, but, Dhvanit Shah, Ph.D., the Harvard Stem Cell Institute scientist who founded the biotech, has previously published details of his work on the generation of off-the-shelf therapies based on stem cells.

RELATED: ExCellThera launches trial of drug to expand umbilical cord blood for stem cell transplants in cancer

In 2018, Shah, who now works as CEO of Garuda, described his work to figure out why shear stress alone is insufficient to transform hemogenic endothelial cells into hematopoietic stem cells. Shah and his collaborators found the pulsation of blood vessels activates a receptor, Piezo1. By treating hemogenic endothelial cells with a Piezo1 activator, the researchers made human long-term hematopoietic stem cells that can self-renew and engraft. 

Another Garuda co-founder, Sean Morrison, Ph.D., has also published research into Piezo1. Morrison, an investigator at Howard Hughes Medical Institute, and his collaborators found the receptor signals inside cells in response to mechanical forces.