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Semma Secures $44M to Develop Diabetes Stem Cell Therapy

Xconomy Boston — 

A Harvard professor’s cell therapy for Type 1 diabetes that caused fanfare when he detailed its potential in October has received $44 million of Series A funding. Semma Therapeutics announced today the money will help it bring the potential drug through proof-of-concept in humans.

The therapy may be able to generate an unlimited amount of pancreatic beta cells, which are used by the body to regulate blood sugar levels. Type 1 diabetes destroys those cells, which produce precise amounts of insulin to regulate glucose levels, the company says.

The original findings were published in Cell last October in a paper penned by Doug Melton, the Xander University professor at Harvard University and co-chair of the department of stem cell and regenerative biology at the school. Melton, a member of the National Academy of Sciences, is the scientific founder of Cambridge, MA-based Semma.

The Series A round was led by MPM Capital, with participation from Fidelity Biosciences, ARCH Venture Partners, and Medtronic. Semma also said this morning that it entered into an undisclosed agreement with Novartis Pharmaceuticals to advance the company through proof-of-concept.

There are about 30,000 estimated new cases of Type 1 diabetes in the U.S. annually, with half of those diagnosed in children, the company says. Injectible insulin has been the standard treatment since its discovery in the 1920s, Semma says. Melton began his research into the disease some 15 years ago, when his two children were first diagnosed, The Boston Globe reported in October.

The cellular differentiation—changing one type of cell, in this case a stem cell, into another—used to create the beta cells for the therapy will “accelerate the development of new therapeutics,” said Robert Millman, Semma’s CEO and a managing director of MPM Capital.

The company’s board of directors includes MPM Capital managing directors Todd Foley and Jim Scopa, Fidelity Biosciences managing partner Steven Knight, bluebird bio CSO Mitch Finer, and Millman, Semma’s CEO. Stephen Oesterle, senior vice president for medicine and technology at Medtronic, is a board observer.