Semma names former Novartis, Magenta executive as new CEO

Regenerative medicine developer Semma Therapeutics is bringing on Bastiano Sanna, formerly of Novartis’ cell and gene therapy unit and Magenta Therapeutics, to serve as its president and CEO following a $114 million funding round late last year.

In March, Sanna stepped down as COO of Magenta, which focuses on bone marrow transplants in autoimmune diseases. Prior to that, he helped oversee Novartis’ CAR-T cell therapy development as global head of stem cell transplant programs, after serving as global head of strategic planning and portfolio management at the Novartis Institutes for BioMedical Research.

Founded in 2014, Semma is working on methods to differentiate pluripotent stem cells into insulin-producing pancreatic cells as a treatment for Type 1 diabetes. The startup was named one of the Fierce 15 winners in medical devices in 2015. Last November’s series B financing will help bring its lead program through the proof-of-concept stage in patients, the company said.

RELATED: Semma scoops $114M to trial curative diabetes cell therapy

“Bastiano has the perfect set of skills and experiences to lead Semma through our next phase of growth as a company after a very successful Series B financing,” Mark Fishman, chairman of Semma’s board of directors, said in a statement.

“Few leaders have such a strong cell therapy background combined with his level of strategic and business experience,” Fishman said. Sanna succeeds Semma’s interim CEO, Elizabeth Stoner, who will stay on as a company advisor.

Research into pancreatic stem cell transplants has been steadily moving the treatment closer to reality, potentially offering a permanent cure for Type 1 diabetes.

RELATED: Pancreatic stem cell discovery opens door to regenerative treatments for diabetes

Earlier this year, researchers at the University of Miami isolated the pancreatic progenitor cells that can grow into insulin-producing beta cell clusters. Those islets previously had to be transplanted, facing the challenge of immune system rejection.

The transplanted cells also had trouble forming the necessary blood vessels on their own. But earlier this week, scientists in the U.S. and Japan devised a new tissue engineering method, a technique called self-condensation cell culture, to boost vascularization. Cultured in an endothelial growth medium, the ingredients “self-organized” into pancreatic islets and improved engraftment, eventually curing Type 1 diabetes in mice.