Medtronic, Novartis back implantable beta cell diabetes device in $44M Series A, partnership

Courtesy of Semma

Semma Therapeutics aims to provide beta cells--the pancreatic cells that produce insulin--to patients with Type 1 diabetes. If the startup can get beyond early research, an implantable device that creates insulin via these stem cell-derived beta cells could replace daily insulin injections and transform patient care.

But myriad potential technical difficulties would need to be surmounted, including the production of the beta cells, keeping the cells alive and functioning in a device as well as producing sufficient insulin to replace injections--and doing all this without triggering an immune reaction with the introduction of foreign cells.

Several top-flight strategic and venture investors are betting that Semma can accomplish all that. MPM Capital created the company with scientific founder Doug Melton, co-chair of the Department of Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology at Harvard University and a member of the National Academy of Sciences. The startup has exclusive license to his work creating functional beta cells from stem cells in the laboratory.

MPM led the $44 million Series A round, with participation from Fidelity Biosciences, ARCH Venture Partners, and Medtronic ($MDT). In addition to the financing, Semma gained a partnership with Novartis Pharmaceuticals ($NVS) but the details of the partnership remain undisclosed.

This financing will go to getting proof-of-concept data in humans. The company has initial preclinical data demonstrating that the transplantation of these stem-cell derived beta cells are sufficient to control blood glucose levels in animal models.

Semma CEO Robert Millman

"The ability to generate glucose-responsive, human beta cells through controlled differentiation of stem cells will accelerate the development of new therapeutics," Robert Millman, co-founder and CEO of Semma as well as an MPM Capital Managing Director, said in a statement. "Our goal is to ensure we bring this remarkable discovery to patients as quickly as possible to reduce or eliminate their reliance on daily insulin injections."

In addition to Millman, the board consists of Todd Foley and Jim Scopa, Managing Directors at MPM; Steven Knight, Managing Partner at Fidelity; and Mitch Finer CSO at bluebird bio. That gives MPM three seats, giving it a controlling position on the 5-person board.

- here is the release