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9 June, 2020 - 12:54 By Tony Quested

Iconic US investors back Cambridge-based Bit Bio’s $41.5m raise

Cambridge UK synthetic biology startup Bit Bio – formerly Elpis Biomed – has raised $41.5 million growth capital backed by iconic US life science investors.

It is a sensational result for the Cambridge University spin-out headed by Dr Mark Kotter and will accelerate the company’s goal to transition biology into engineering.

US big-hitters Rick Klausner, Bob Nelsen and Jim Tananbaum have teamed up with Bit Bio to uncover the “operating system of life” and accelerate the company’s drive towards industrial-scale manufacturing of all human cells.

Bit Bio, a Cambridge-based synthetic biology company spun out of the university in 2016, combines data science and biology to code cells for the wellbeing of humanity. The Series A haul brings its total funding to $50 million. 

In a strong statement of support for the technology the investment was led by three of the world’s top life sciences investors and entrepreneurs. Richard Klausner is the former director of the National Cancer Institute and founder of Lyell Immunopharma, Juno and Grail. 

Jim Tananbaum is the founder and chief executive officer of Foresite Capital, a US-focused healthcare investment firm that has approximately $3 billion in assets under management.

Robert Nelsen is a co-founder and a managing director of ARCH Venture Partners. He joined ARCH at its founding and played a significant role in the early sourcing, financing and development of more than 100 companies, including 27 which have reached valuations exceeding $1 billion. German company Blueyard Capital also invested.

Bit Bio’s aim is to decode ‘cellular identity’ in order to generate every cell type of the human body. Its platform technology, opti-ox, enables precise reprogramming of stem cells and induces them to take on a new identity. They become specialised cells, such as those in the liver, brain or immune system. As a result, the company is already able to produce human cells at unmatched scale, speed and consistency.

Founder and CEO Dr Mark Kotter, who developed opti-ox in his lab at Cambridge University, said: “Our moonshot goal is to develop a platform capable of producing every human cell type. 

“This is possible once we understand the genes governing human cell behaviour, which ultimately form the ‘operating system of life’. This will unlock a new generation of cell and tissue therapies for tackling cancer, neurodegenerative disorders and autoimmune diseases and accelerate the development of effective drugs for a range of conditions. 

“The support of leading deep tech and biotech investors will catalyse this unique convergence of biology and engineering.”

Lead investor and Bit Bio adviser Rick Klausner said: “Bit Bio is based on beautiful science. The company’s technology has the potential to bring the long-awaited precision and reliability of engineering to the application of stem cells. 

“Bit Bio’s approach represents a paradigm shift in biology that will enable a new generation of cell therapies, improving the lives of millions.”

The investors are supporting the company so it can continue to develop its underlying scientific principles. The injection of funding will enable Bit Bio to grow the talent and operations it needs to realise its ambitions.

The development of new cancer-defeating cell therapies is currently obstructed by the scarcity of human cells. As a result, cell therapies remain expensive and difficult to scale. 

Furthermore, consistent access to functional human cells will unlock the potential of cell therapies and improve the efficiency of drug development. Moreover, at present less than 3% of new drugs make it to the clinical stage.
This is in part caused by differences between the animal models and cell lines used for drug development and human biology. The supply of human cells resulting from Bit Bio’s approach aims to tackle this problem. 

At the same time, the company’s technology will reduce the need for animal studies, alleviating unnecessary animal suffering.

Bit Bio has assembled a deep base of scientific support. Its team includes chief scientific adviser Dr Roger Pedersen, one of the pioneers of human stem cell biology, scientific adviser Dr Marius Wernig, a pioneer in cell reprogramming and co-director of the Stanford Stem Cell Institute, scientific adviser Dr John Connolly, a leading translational immunologist with years of experience in cell therapy, and scientific adviser Dr Ramy Ibrahim, a leader in clinical immuno-oncology.

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