New stem cell company launched by US$225 million Bayer and Versant funding

Written by Freya Leask

Bayer AG (Leverkusen, Germany) and US health care investor Versant Ventures (San Francisco, CA, USA) are launching a new stem cell research company, BlueRock Therapeutics in the USA and Canada, which will focus on developing treatments for heart conditions and degenerative disease such as Parkinson’s disease.

Multinational chemical and pharmaceutical company Bayer AG (Leverkusen, Germany) and alongside US healthcare investor Versant Ventures (San Francisco, CA, USA) are investing US$225 million in a new stem cell research company, BlueRock Therapeutics (Toronto, ON, Canada), in the second largest Series A biotechnology investment in the history of the industry. This funding will fuel research focusing on heart conditions and degenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s disease and will position BlueRock Therapeutics at the cutting edge of iPSC research.

BlueRock Therapeutics will use technologies and intellectual properties invented by Nobel Prize winner Dr Shinya Yamanaka of Kyoto University and licensed from iPS Academia Japan Inc. (both Japan), allowing the company to produce iPSCs.

Toronto was chosen as a location for this new venture due to the presence of top Canadian researchers, such as Gordon Keller, director of the McEwen Centre for Regenerative Medicine at Toronto’s University Health Network. Dr Keller has discovered a method to turn pluripotent stem cells into specialized heart cells that could replace damaged tissue in patients that have had heart attacks. “I think it really represents almost a watershed moment in the transition from [pluripotent stem cells] being an idea to this being a real therapy for patients,” Dr Bradley Wouters, executive vice-president of science and research at the University Health Network, said.

The startup will also benefit from a partnership with the Toronto-based Centre for Commercialization of Regenerative Medicine (CCRM), a leader in developing and commercializing regenerative medicine, cell and gene therapies. Furthermore, BlueRock Therapeutics will have research and development operations in New York and Boston (USA), which will help improve global partnership opportunities.

A joint venture between a venture-capital firm and a pharmaceutical company is increasingly common in the industry of drug development and biotechnology. Instead of conducting expensive research and development in-house, pharmaceutical companies are increasingly turning to smaller firms.