Regenerative medicine technologies aim to tap into the body’s innate healing abilities to grow and repair tissue. But the triggers that activate these healing powers have been a mystery to scientists for years. New startup Surrozen believes it has a solution and has raised $33 million in funding to test its approach.
The Column Group led the Series A investment round in South San Francisco-based Surrozen, which plans to develop a pipeline of drugs intended to selectively activate and regulate tissue repair in the body.
Surrozen’s research focuses on Wnt, a protein important in stem cell maintenance, tissue regeneration, and a variety of other developmental processes. The company points to scientific studies in Science and other publications identifying stem cells that respond to this protein in tissues for the skin, liver, kidney, and more. The recognition of Wnt’s role has led to a number of other drug development efforts, from hair regeneration to cancer therapy. But the proteins are hard to target with a drug these efforts are still experimental.
Surrozen has a different strategy: it aims to engineer “surrogate” Wnt proteins with “attractive, drug-like properties,” Tim Kutzkey, the startup’s acting CEO and a managing partner of The Column Group, said in a prepared statement. These drugs would selectively activate Wnt molecular signaling pathways to treat injury or disease. Developing engineered Wnt proteins has historically been tough because of their poor solubility, a problem that the company’s founders have overcome, Surrozen said.
Surrozen was co-founded by four Stanford University professors and researchers: K. Christopher Garcia, Roeland Nusse, Calvin Kuo, and Claudia Janda. Surrozen has not yet specified what medical conditions it aims to address, just that its technology has potential applications in a wide array of human tissues. Surrozen says it hopes to gain better understanding of the mechanisms that guide the tissue repair process as it works toward building its pipeline of Wnt drug candidates. Nobel prize winner Harold Varmus, who co-discovered the first WnT protein in 1982 with Nusse, sits on Surrozen’s board of directors.