Cellino Raises $16 Million Seed Round for AI-Guided Cell Therapies

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Cambridge, Mass.-based Cellino announced a $16 million seed round to enable its induced pluripotent stem cell (iPSC) engineering platform, powered by artificial intelligence (AI). The round was led by The Engine, a venture capital firm born at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Khosla Ventures and joined by Humboldt Fund and 8VC.

Autologous iPSCs – cells taken from a patient, engineered for therapeutic benefit and returned to the patient – have been in clinical testing since 2014, but none have reached regulatory approval. The personalized therapies have the benefit of being non-immunogenic but have been challenging for companies in the space to manufacture at scale.

Cellino aims to use image-guided machine learning AI to improve cell processing by guiding automated cell reprogramming, expansion and differentiation. If successful, the company said its approach will allow thousands of patient samples to be processed in parallel.

According to The Engine, Cellino’s platform will allow it to precisely steer iPSCs to a target tissue state. Because iPSCs can become any type of cell, the platform can effectively creating any type of mature tissue. The company’s platform can also develop programs faster for making functional tissue. The improved efficiencies are needed because some cell and tissue therapies, like chimeric antigen receptor T-cell therapies, could cost as much as $1.5 million per person.

The company was founded by CEO Nabiha Saklayen, Marinna Madrid and chief technology officer Matthias Wagner at Harvard University in 2017, tapping each person’s distinct background to combine experience with optics, biology and machine learning. Saklayen said the seed funding lays the groundwork for a “democratized future for autologous cells and tissues,” increasing patient access to regenerative therapies. The company has not disclosed whether it will develop its own therapies or in which disease areas it will operate.

“Stem cell-derived therapies promise regenerative and curative therapies for many diseases,” said Ann DeWitt, general partner at The Engine. “Cellino’s transformative approach will dramatically improve quality and scale.“

At least one other company is using AI to advance autologous IPSC therapies. Aspen Neurosciences is using AI genomics tools to cut manufacturing costs and time for its autologous iPSC therapies. The company’s lead program is ANPD001, an autologous neuron replacement therapy for treating sporadic Parkinson’s disease, currently in investigational new drug-enabling studies. Aspen launched in 2019 and last year raised a $70 million series A round, led by Orbimed.

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