Startup Sana Biotechnology Licenses Cell Technology From Harvard University

Harvard University view looking over the river

Hans Bishop’s Sana Biotechnology, which launched earlier this year, inked a deal with Harvard University for a foundational technology that will protect transplanted cells from immune attack.

Sana will use the technology in an attempt to boost the success of cell therapy treatments. The startup and Harvard’s Office of Technology Development entered a license agreement for the technology that consists of methods for producing hypoimmunogenic stem cells that can be differentiated into any cell type and then transplanted into a patient without triggering immune rejection.

The hypoimmunogenic stem cells are derived from human pluripotent stem cells and have been genetically engineered to appear benign in order to hide from the immune system. The cells’ genomes were modified to reduce the activity of genes that produce proteins that can provoke the transplant recipient’s immune system. Additionally, the cells genomes were adapted to increase the activity of genes that produce tolerogenic factors that will fool the immune system into believing the cells are not something that needs to be attacked and eliminated.

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Sana, which launched in January with a focus on creating and delivering engineered cells as medicines for patients, will create hypoimmunogenic pluripotent stem cells and use them as the starting material to develop novel cell therapies. In the announcement, the company said that under appropriate conditions, the hypoimmunogenic pluripotent stem cells can be differentiated, at significant scale, into various types of cells a patient needs to replace missing or damaged cells in the body. Sana said the engineered stem cells can be turned into cardiomyocytes (heart muscle), endothelial cells (blood vessels), hepatocytes (liver cells), or pancreatic beta cells (cells that produce insulin).

Vivian Berlin, managing director of Strategic Partnerships in Harvard OTD, said the university is excited about licensing this technology to Sana in order to advance the development of allogeneic (off-the-shelf) cell therapies.

Chad Cowan, who helped develop the licensed products and also serves as chief scientific officer of Sana, said “overcoming the immune-rejection barrier is essential for making stem cell–derived therapies broadly accessible.” The technology that Sana licensed will provide the tools to “create treatments and cures for a host of conditions that have few, if any, effective treatments today,” Cowan said in a statement.

Sana, based in Seattle, was spun out of Flagship Pioneering and has been supported by investments from ARCH Venture Partners & F-Prime Capital. The company’s core capabilities are being built around several areas, including “making cells at scale ex vivo to replace any damaged or missing cells in the body; in vivo delivery to specific cell types of any payload – including DNA, RNA, and proteins to reprogram cells; and immunology expertise to hide allogeneic cells.” The license agreement with Harvard grants Sana non-exclusive access to Harvard technology for performing high-efficiency, ex vivo genome editing.

Steve Harr, president and chief executive officer of Sana, said the technology that his company licensed has been developed and validated by Harvard and the university’s Blavatnik Biomedical Accelerator.

“… we are thrilled to have the opportunity to push it forward. Sana is focused on engineering cells as medicines for patients, both reprogramming cells in the body to fix function and making cells outside the body that physicians can utilize to replace missing or damaged cells in the body. Harvard’s technology is an important piece in making our vision a reality,” said Harr, who co-founded the company alongside Bishop.

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