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Backed By a Baidu Founder, Allele Raises $7M to Reprogram Stem Cells

Xconomy San Diego — 

After subsisting mostly on Small Business Innovation Research grants and sales of laboratory reagents over the past 15 years, San Diego-based Allele Biotechnology & Pharmaceuticals says it has raised $7 million in its first round of institutional funding.

Yuan Capital, a private equity firm with offices in Beijing and Hong Kong, led the Series A round, according to the company. Joining the deal was Yifang Ventures, an early stage venture firm led by Eric Xu, who co-founded Baidu, the Chinese-language search engine.

“It’s not quite the same as a typical Series A,” says Jiwu Wang, who started Allele as a postdoc in molecular biology at UC San Diego. “ But it’s an important step for us. It gives us the ability to move faster with our iPS [induced pluripotent stem cells] technology.”

As a research scientist, Wang says he was focused mostly on studying protein-RNA interactions and pre-messenger RNA splicing regulation. After founding Allele in 1999, Wang says he initially secured funding from NIH grants for small business, and operating much like an academic laboratory. “After one year, we have our first patent filed for [a] reagent,” Wang says. “After that, we started direct marketing of reagents and kits, mostly to academic research labs.” He later explained, “At some point, you have to sustain yourself and grow. One of the quicker ways to grow is to sell reagents.”

Over time, Allele developed additional lines of business: fluorescent proteins; single domain antibodies; iPS cells; and other supplies. In 2012, Wang participated in an important advance that uses messenger RNA to “reprogram” human stem cells in a safer and more efficient way than using viruses, which was the current standard, and avoided unintended alterations of the genome.

Prior technology that used virus-based reprogramming limited the potential clinical applications of iPS cells, such as regenerative medicine or transplant therapies.

Wang said Allele will use the new funding to expand its production of Allele’s proprietary stem cells for potential cell therapy programs, cell-based assays, and customer stem cell banking. More recently, Allele says it has focused on emerging applications that use stem cell-based therapies in areas such as neural diseases.