Flagship Pioneering Launches New Company to Discover Medicines Targeting Cellular Behavior


Flagship Pioneering launched Cellarity, a company focused on studying and altering cell behaviors as a means of drug development.

The new company, based in Cambridge, Mass., launched with a platform that “digitizes and quantifies cellular behaviors” in order to understand the dynamics that govern those behaviors. It will then use that understanding to develop medicines that can direct the behaviors.

Cellarity came to be after Flagship Pioneering became interested in using computation to target disease complexity and accelerate medical breakthroughs. Cellarity is using insight gleaned from understanding cellular activity and the altered cellular behaviors that are the crucible of many diseases to “quantitatively characterize changes in cellular behaviors for a given disease and discover drugs that can course-correct them to a state of health.” This new paradigm shifts the frame of reference for discovering therapeutics from a single target protein or pathway to one that is simultaneously molecular, cellular, phenotypic, organismal and clinical, Flagship said in its announcement.

Noubar Afeyan, chief executive officer of Flagship Pioneering, said that Flagship researchers have been exploring ways to characterize disease in order to develop newer and more effective treatment options. With advances in artificial intelligence and biology, researchers can now explore these characteristics in new ways.

“Cellarity has shown that not only can we embrace this complexity, but in fact, we can also harness it to enable direct lead and drug generation, obviating the need for random screening paradigms,” Afeyan said in a statement.

Cellarity is led by Avak Kahvejian, a Flagship Pioneering Partner who will serve as CEO of the new company. Cristina Rondinone, a veteran from AstraZeneca, will serve as company president. Rondinone was formerly head of cardiovascular, renal and metabolic diseases at Medimmune, AstraZeneca’s research subsidiary. Prior to MedImmune, Rondinone held leadership positions in metabolic and cardiovascular diseases at Hoffmann-La Roche and Abbott Laboratories.

Leaning on machine learning as part of its process, Cellarity tapped Sanofi veteran Milind Kamkolkar as its chief digital and data officer. At Sanofi, Kamkolkar served as chief data officer and drove the Joint Enterprise Data Initiative (JEDI), which serves the backbone of Sanofi’s digital strategy. Before Sanofi, he was head of data science and digital medicines at Novartis. He will partner with Chad Nusbaum, who serves as the company’s chief technology officer. Prior to Cellarity, he founded and led the Broad Technology Labs, a central development resource for the Broad Institute.

“At Cellarity, we have leveraged our novel approach and vantage point to create a powerful, generalizable platform for therapeutics discovery—one that integrates cell and network biology from human and animal samples, and tissue culture systems, and allows for clearer translatability. The potential impact on human health is already clear as we apply our platform to a range of disease indications,” Kahvejian said in a statement.

The Cellarity platform includes the Cellarium, which maps biological connections to AI-generated cell behavior screening to rapidly identify and explore new therapeutic hypotheses. Based on its work exploring these hypotheses in animal models, Cellarity is preparing to move multiple programs to the clinic.

“Cellarity is the first therapeutics company taking a deliberate approach to leveraging AI as part of a non-hierarchical and interdisciplinary approach to drug development, rather than classically trying to apply new technologies to existing processes and siloed datasets,” Kamkolkar said in a statement. “This approach gives Cellarity a view on questions that have, until now, seemed intractable. Our progress in under a year is remarkable.”

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