Battelle Ventures has spun out a firm from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), with an initial $1.5 million seed investment. The company, called NellOne Therapeutics, will develop regenerative medicines. The funding will be tranched based on key technical milestones.
“This staged seed investment is sufficient to objectively determine early proof of principle, identify potential impediments to commercialization, and determine if the level of risk is acceptable before taking the company to the next level,” according to Tracy Warren, general partner at Battelle Ventures.
NellOne is currently operating in the virtual company model that Battelle Ventures has developed to provide a productive and capital-efficient environment during the highest-risk phases of a company’s development—in this case, the proof-of-efficacy stage, notes Warren, who is acting CEO of the new entity.
“Most of the funding is dedicated to development of intellectual property,” she says, adding that there are no employees, and scientific activity remains at ORNL for now.
“NellOne is dedicated to creating and commercializing protein therapeutics that can be delivered to damaged tissue with the unique potential to restore both tissue mass and function in patients recovering from heart attacks,” comments Warren.
The firm will leverage research done by senior staff scientist Cymbeline Culiat, Ph.D., in the systems genetics group. Using a mutant mouse model, Dr. Culiat identified the activity of the Nell-1 gene’s cell-signaling pathway that is critical to tissue growth and maturation in key mammalian organs, explains Warren.
The focus will be on applications for rebuilding damaged cardiac muscle. “The promise of restoring both normal tissue mass and function comes from leveraging a critical natural cell-growth and maturation pathway,” explains Dr. Culiat. “We will be testing approaches to stimulate this cell-signaling mechanism in injured tissues of specific organ systems, to initiate cell regrowth, and subsequent maturation of tissue structures so that normal organ functions are restored.
“It’s not just cell regrowth that is important but also the way cells are organized to support organ function,” Dr. Culiat adds. “Current data from small-animal studies show that the Nell-1 protein triggers maturation of certain cell types to enable new tissue to perform its normal functions.”