The placenta provides a fetus all of the nourishment it needs to grow and remain healthy. Executives at biotech startup Celularity believe cells from this organ can also be developed into treatments for a wide range of diseases, and the company announced Thursday that it has $250 million in funding to move its plans forward.
Celularity is led by CEO and founder Bob Hariri, who had previously founded the cellular therapeutics division of Summit, NJ, drugmaker Celgene (NASDAQ: CELG). Celgene spun out that division to form Celularity. Hariri had also co-founded Human Longevity, a San Diego company that is analyzing genomic data to find ways to extend human life and health. That company joined with Celgene, United Therapeutics (NASDAQ: UTHR), and Sorrento Therapeutics (NASDAQ: SRNE), as well as venture capital firms in funding Warren, NJ-based Celularity.
Stem cells have been studied for use in treating various conditions. But the challenge has been finding a source of these cells scalable for therapeutic applications, Hariri said on CNBC Thursday. Celularity uses postpartum placentas as the source of its cells. The company says these cells are ideal because they are safe and can be injected into any human without the risk of rejection.
“Those cells are powerful for treating everything from cancer to degenerative diseases,” Hariri told CNBC.
Celularity sprung from the cord blood business. This blood, which is taken from placentas after birth, can be stored and later used as a treatment for some diseases, such as blood cancers. Celgene entered the cord blood business via acquisitions and Hariri told Forbes that it now generates about $10 million a year in revenue for Celularity.
Celularity’s experimental therapies are derived from placental cells. Peter Diamandis, a co-founder of Celularity who might best be known as the founder of the X Prize Foundation, told CNBC in the same interview with Hariri that Celgene had previously invested $500 million to advance its cell therapy science to the point where it could be spun out as an independent company. He added that stem cells from placentas can be developed into treatments for cancer, autoimmune diseases, and even to regrow organs.
Celularity’s pipeline includes a Crohn’s disease treatment that is ready to start Phase 3 studies. The company also has 10 preclinical immunotherapy drugs, including potential treatments for brain cancer and multiple myeloma.