Analysis & Comment

Cell therapy manufacturing tech startup Cellares raises $82 million

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OAKLAND, Calif. (Reuters) – Cellares Corp, a cell therapy manufacturing technology startup in South San Francisco, said on Wednesday it raised $82 million in a funding round led by new investor Decheng Capital and existing investor Eclipse Ventures.

The funding will help accelerate development of its “Cell Shuttle” – a machine roughly the size of a small conference room that has all the tools needed to automate manufacturing of cell therapy drugs, according to Cellares CEO and co-founder Fabian Gerlinghaus.

Patients’ cells are loaded into a cartridge and the machine uses a fully automated process to manufacture a cell therapy product ready for infusion back into the patient, he said.

Victor Tong, a partner at venture capital firm Decheng Capital, said while cell therapy was “one of the hottest areas for biotech” venture capitalists today with over 600 startups in the space, manufacturing was a major bottleneck as most is done manually in expensive facilities requiring massive clean rooms.

Many cell therapies take cells from the patient, modify them, and re-inject them back into the patient — a process that makes scaling up a challenge and leading to exorbitant prices for patients, said Gerlinghaus. Cellares’ machines would be able to manufacture 10 patients’ cell therapy drugs at the same time, lowering costs by 75%, he said.

The machines are not ready for prime time yet, and Gerlinghaus said Cellares is refining the technology with its partners PACT Pharma, a Silicon Valley cancer cell therapy startup, and the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center to prepare for commercialization of the “Cell Shuttles” in 2023.

Cellares declined to share the latest valuation of the company.

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