Massachusetts Startup Frequency Therapeutics Nabs $32 Million

Massachusetts Startup Frequency Therapeutics Nabs $32 Million April 11, 2017
By Mark Terry, Breaking News Staff

Woburn, Mass.-based Frequency Therapeutics closed on a $32 million Series A financing. The company’s seed funding was by CoBro Ventures, who led this round. It also included Morningside Ventures, Emigrant Capital Corp., Korean Investment Partnership, Alexandria Real Estate Equities and others.

The company is working on Progenitor Cell Activation (PCA) for hearing loss. The company was founded in 2015 and led by David Lucchino, as president and chief executive officer. The scientific founders are Roberg Langer and Jeffrey Karp at MIT and Harvard Medical School. The proprietary PCA platform stimulates the sensory hair cells in the inner ear to regrow.

The company indicates it has enough cash for the next 12 to 18 months. In that time, it expects to begin clinical trials. “There is no therapy right now for restoring hearing in humans,” said Luccino to the Boston Business Journal. “The opportunity in this space is very substantial.”

As part of the funding and development, the company, which currently employs about 15 people, expects to hire up to “the low 20s” next year.

“We know what molecules can hit what genes,” said Lucchino to Endpoints NewsJohn Carroll. “We’re not looking to fundamentally change the underlying biology.” The idea is to utilize that biology and enhance its healing response.

The company also believes that its approach has potential outside hearing problems. Its activated progenitor cells platform could be utilized in skin disorders, gastrointestinal diseases and muscle degeneration. “Hearing is our first opportunity,” Lucchino told the Boston Business Journal, “and we have some really compelling data around that, but we really consider ourselves a regenerative medicine 2.0 company.”

Marc Cohen, co-founder of CoBro Ventures, told FierceBiotech, that Frequency’s approach using small molecules for hearing loss is what sets it apart. The goal is “to gain much of the same effect as gene therapy and CRISPR by using small molecules, which we believe are safer and allow for easier delivery. Our data is very compelling and we are excited to be moving to the clinic in the next 12 to 18 months.”

In humans, the sensory hair cells in the inner ear, or chochlea, detect sound. They then transmit that signal to neurons that eventually communicate with the brain. They can be damaged, such as by loud sounds, i.e., music or other sounds. In humans, they do not regenerate on their own and the number of hair cells in the ear decreases with age.

“The ability to regenerate hair cells within the inner ear already exists in nature,” says Karp, in a February 21 statement “Birds and amphibians are able to regenerate these cells throughout their lives, which provided the base for our inspiration to find similar pathways in mammals. With our collaborators at Mass Eye and Ear Infirmary, we were able to study a small molecule approach, that we developed at MIT and BWH, to expand progenitor cells from the mouse cochlea. We believe this technique represents a major advance for hearing loss research and will enable new physiological studies as well as genetic screens using drugs, siRNA, or gene overexpression.”

Other companies working on hearing loss include Boehringer Ingelheim, which has a similar approach, Pfizer , Roche , Sanofi , Novartis and GlaxoSmithKline . Smaller companies include Auris Medical and Decibel Therapeutics.

On March 30, Frequency announced that John LaMattina, was joining the company as a member of the Scientific Advisory Board and as Senior Advisor to the CEO. LaMattina was previously president of Pfizer Global Research and Development and senior vice president of Pfizer .

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