With $23M, Flagship-Backed Sigilon Protects Protein-Producing Cells

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much about it. Nature wrote in 2016 that Semma may work with a University of Miami bioengineer on other encapsulation techniques.

In Sigilon’s case, the company surgically implants the encapsulated cells into a part of the abdomen near the stomach called the lesser sac. The cells in the chemically altered alginate capsule secrete the proteins from the lesser sac into the body’s bloodstream. Sigilon engineers its own proprietary cell lines to treat specific indications, with its initial focus targeting hematologic conditions, enzyme deficiencies, and endocrine disorders, according to a prepared statement.

Sigilon believes its encapsulation device has an edge over other cell therapies because it can be accessed and adjusted, even after it is implanted. That allows the number of cells that are implanted, and therefore the dosage of the treatment, to be adjusted if necessary, Wotton says.

“The big advantage for us is that you can increase the dose, decrease the dose, which you can’t do if you’ve got a standard gene therapy, where you inject the patient with a vector and hope it goes to the right place at the right quantities,” Wotton says. “It’s going to be producing that protein at a known quantity for months and probably years.”

Sigilon may expand by targeting more partnerships with companies that want to license its technology, says Douglas Cole, a managing partner at Flagship Pioneering and the chairman of Sigilon’s board of directors. That may be one way Sigilon is similar to another Flagship company, Moderna Therapeutics, which has a biological bent similar to Sigilon. Moderna develops strings of biological code, known as messenger RNA (mRNA), which it uses in patients cells to create proteins that fight diseases.

Moderna has successfully licensed its technology and spun out multiple businesses. The company has raised around $1 billion in investment and developed partnerships with companies including Merck (NYSE: MRK), AstraZeneca (NYSE: AZN), Vertex Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: VRTX), and Alexion Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: ALXN).

Even if Moderna and Sigilon have scientific similarities, Cole argues they are still different because the Sigilon’s focus on its delivery system that protects implanted cells, which deliver proteins to patients with protein deficiencies. (One publication said that Sigilon raised additional capital in 2016, and Cole says Flagship has not shown the business to other investors. Flagship is announcing the company’s launch today with the $23.5 million funding, Cole wrote in an email.)

Wotton believes Sigilon has room to grow, scientifically. He says one possibility may be trying to engineer cells to respond to biological conditions, such as lipid levels in the blood, which could encourage the cell to produce a cholesterol-reducing agent.

“I imagine within 10 years that a lot of technology will be available where you can engineer cells to respond to a specific signal, and then manufacture a protein or a drug that reflects the signal it has just received,” Wotton says. “My own personal belief is that cell therapy is coming of age now.”

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