The summer before Cellino CEO and co-founder Nabiha Saklayen started at Harvard, she lost her grandmother to complications from diabetes. Before that, she hadn’t taken a biology class since ninth or tenth grade – the mark of a classic physicist – but that’s when she decided she wanted the others to sit at the intersection of the two for the rest of his career.
Combine that with being opposite the University of Cambridge’s Stem Cell Institute, and you have the birth of Cellino, a standalone cell therapy manufacturing company that has just announced the end of its series. AT.
“I think very fondly of my grandmother,” Saklayen said during a call with Terminal news. “That was definitely a strong underlying motivation.”
Cellino landed $80 million in a Series A led by Leaps by Bayer, the investment arm of big pharma, 8VC and the Humboldt Fund. Felicis Ventures and existing investors The Engine and Khosla Ventures also contributed. So far, the company has raised $96 million to date.
The company wants to make regenerative stem cell medicines available on a larger scale for eligible patients. Its manufacturing platform attempts to combine artificial intelligence and laser technology to reduce expenses and overcome limitations that arise when trying to scale.
Using image-based machine learning, it trains algorithms to look at images and find information consistently, something Saklayen says machines can do better than humans. From there, the company uses the data to determine what’s good and what’s not in the manufacturing process.
Leaps has a portfolio of 50 companies and focuses on potentially game-changing technologies that have specific targets. Jürgen Eckhardt, the head of Leaps, said in an interview with Endpoints that Cellino was an obvious investment for this reason.
“Cell therapy today is quite a laborious process, quite expensive, and won’t be available to the broad masses starting today, but we want to kind of democratize this manufacturing process,” Eckhardt said. “Their vision is to be a cell manufacturing foundry, where you can produce targeted cells at a fraction of the cost.”
Cellino is ultimately working towards “GMP-in-a-box” – a closed system that can be dropped off at hospitals that need it to manufacture therapies.
For now, it’s an ambitious idea, not yet finished. Saklayen says the team is somewhere in the middle of development, although there is still a lot to learn before testing.
It’s a concept that several other companies – like Cellares run by Fabian Gerlinghaus and CureVac in Germany – have also been working on. But it got even more personal for Saklayen. Not only did she lose her grandmother before she started at Harvard, but two years ago her great-aunt was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.
“It’s hard to see that there aren’t medical treatments available for her,” she said. “All treatments treat the symptoms, not the disease.”
With the money, the company will bolster its software, machine learning, and hardware capabilities for the end-to-end manufacturing of stem cell therapies, both autologous and allogeneic.
So it will look to bolster its software and machine learning teams with the next wave of hiring. In an age of work-from-home flexibility and fluid office demands, it could be difficult to recruit workers to the team, especially in an area as competitive as Greater Boston. But because of the work he does, Saklayen says the company is committed to the region.
It is located in the heart of Cambridge, MA, on Massachusetts Avenue, across from a legendary music venue called The Middle East which has hosted concerts for everyone from Gary Numan to Vanilla Ice, and above a restaurant founded by the 8-time James Beard award. -winning chef Ken Oringer.
“As a company, Boston and Cambridge are our heart,” Saklayen said.