CAMBRIDGE, Mass.—Celsius Therapeutics, a company translating single-cell genomic insights into precision therapeutics for autoimmune diseases and cancer, launched in mid-May with a $65-million Series A financing led by Third Rock Ventures with participation from GV (formerly Google Ventures), Heritage Provider Network, Casdin Capital, Alexandria Venture Investments and other key investors. Celsius says that it is “charting a new course of target and drug discovery by understanding the specific cells, among many others, that are key players in disease and by identifying the genes that are triggering their malfunction.”
Celsius’ novel approach aims to combine the power of single-cell genomic sequencing with computational algorithms to discover first-in-class precision therapies that have a transformative impact on the lives of patients with autoimmune diseases and cancer. To do this, the company applies what it calls a “systematic” approach, starting with single-cell sequencing on defined patient samples to identify and understand the individual cells and their interactions that cause disease.
By analyzing single cells, Celsius believes its approach has the potential to understand the causes of disease at an entirely new level of resolution that overcomes limitations of traditional genomic sequencing approaches—and could be key to bringing precision medicines to autoimmune diseases for the first time. These cellular insights could also allow Celsius to identify the right combination of treatments for the right patients and build on the promising results seen in the field of immuno-oncology.
Celsius was co-founded by Dr. Aviv Regev, chair of the faculty and director of the Klarman Cell Observatory at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, a professor of biology at MIT and an investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. Her research revealed that many diseases are driven by the combined dysfunction of several specific cell types and the interactions between them. Traditional genomic sequencing cannot identify these individual contributions, as only the average can be seen and key critical causes can be missed.
With the approaches discovered by Aviv and Celsius’ other founders, the company reportedly for the first time will be able to combine massive datasets of unprecedented size and complexity with sophisticated machine learning algorithms to pinpoint the cells and genes that are pivotal in disease.
“When first meeting with Aviv and her colleagues and learning about the significance of this new technology, we knew this had to become a company. We formed Celsius with the goal of bringing a novel precision medicine approach to underserved patients with autoimmune diseases and certain cancers,” said Dr. Christoph Lengauer, co-founder and president of Celsius and a venture partner at Third Rock Ventures. “With the new level of clarity provided by single-cell sequencing, our team will be able to address many of the challenges of the current treatments and introduce a new class of medicines that will lead to better outcomes and potential cures.”
The other co-founders of Celsius are themselves are established leaders with experience across the company’s entire product engine, from single-cell RNA sequencing to computational biology, disease biology and drug discovery:
- Dr. Jeffrey Bluestone, president and CEO of Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy, University of California, San Francisco
- Dr. Vijay Kuchroo, Samuel L. Wasserstrom professor of neurology, Harvard Medical School
- Dr. Ramnik Xavier, chief of gastroenterology, Massachusetts General Hospital.
Celsius has licensed key technologies from the Broad Institute based on the work of Drs. Regev and Kuchroo, including non-exclusive licenses to single-cell technologies and an exclusive license to early-stage therapeutic programs.
“Each of us is made up of tens of trillions of cells. At the core of founding Celsius was the new ability to see something we could not see before. We can now see the dysfunction of key cells and their interactions within their neighborhood. Diseases that we have struggled to understand now can become crystal-clear. With that clarity, we hope to create novel precision medicines,” said Alexis Borisy, partner at Third Rock Ventures and chairman of Celsius Therapeutics. “We believe this approach and the incredible group that has been assembled by the founders have the unique potential to deliver a powerful new class of medicines and make a meaningful difference for patients.”