Stem-cell therapy firm BlueRock Therapeutics has launched with the backing of a combined $225 million Series A investment by Bayer and healthcare investment firm Versant Ventures. BlueRock’s initial programs will focus on induced pluripotent stem cell (iPSC)-derived therapeutics for cardiovascular disease and neurodegenerative disorders. The new firm will have R&D operations in New York and Boston.

BlueRock has acquired rights to a key iPSC intellectual property from iPS Academia Japan. The firm’s strategy is to work in collaboration with leading academic and industrial partners. The cardiovascular disease program partnerships include the McEwen Centre for Regenerative Medicine and the University Health Network (both based in Toronto), and include scientists such as BlueRock co-founder Gordon Keller, Ph.D., and founding investigator Michael A. Laflamme, M.D., Ph.D. The company's aim is to develop pluripotent stem cell-derived myocardiocytes as regenerative cell therapies for restoring electrical and contractile function in patients with myocardial infarction or chronic heart failure.

A broad strategic partnership with scientific co-founders Lorenz Studer, M.D., Ph.D., and Viviane Tabar, M.D., at Memorial Sloan Kettering, will focus on stem-cell therapeutics for neurological diseases with high unmet need. Dr. Studer has pioneered the large-scale production of dopamine neurons, and has demonstrated the potential to directly treat Parkinson’s disease through replacement therapy using stem cell-derived, dopamine-producing neurons. BlueRock’s manufacturing platform has been established through a partnership with the Toronto-based Centre for Commercialization of Regenerative Medicine (CCRM), which is leveraging technologies and expertise for the scalable GMP production of stem-cell types.

Bayer says its investment in BlueRock is the second largest by the Bayer Lifescience Center (BLSC). Bayer and Versant maintains that the initial $225 million funding pot will support the firm through its first four years, and enable multiple projects to be progressed into clinical development.

“Accessing cell-based therapies is part of Bayer’s strategy, commented Kemal Malik, member of the board of management of Bayer and responsible for Innovation. “We are launching this enterprise to develop transformative and curative therapies for patients based on the latest stem-cell technology. We have partnered with Versant Ventures to build a leading player in this field by securing exclusive access to these breakthrough technologies for BlueRock Therapeutics.”

Stem-cell technology could ultimately provide the answer to a number of major diseases, according to Axel Bouchon, Ph.D., head of BLSC: “iPSC technology has the potential to successfully tackle some of the most challenging diseases on this planet. We are fully aware that this will take time and there are many obstacles to overcome. But by combining the best minds around the globe and providing bold resources we believe we can achieve this ultimate goal of curing such diseases.”

BLSC is focused on promoting and supporting scientific breakthroughs in medicine and agriculture, by fostering innovative partnerships and establishing new companies. Last year, BLSC established Casebia Therapeutics, as a joint venture with CRISPR Therapeutics. In November, a Versant Ventures portfolio company, Turnstone Biologics, raised $41.4 million in a Series B financing round that represented what Versant claimed was one of the largest ever for a Canadian biotech. The oncolytic viral immunotherapy company’s Series A financing round was led by Versant less than a year previously.

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