A group of the nation’s leaders in stem cell biology announced formation of Fate Therapeutics, a new biotechnology company developing drugs to control cell fate.
Fate will harness the healing power of adult stem cells by using small molecule drugs to modulate cells in vivo (in the body) and by reprogramming mature adult cells into stem cells.
“Fate’s approach is the dawn of a new day in medicine,” said Dr. Ben Shapiro, retired Executive Vice President of Worldwide Basic Research, Merck Research Laboratories, and a member of Fate’s Science Advisory Board.
“Revolutionary advances in stem cell research have shifted the entire debate. We are proving that adult stem cell proliferation and differentiation can be modulated in the human body, and we now have the ability to induce pluripotent stem cells from adult human tissue rather than relying on the use of stem cells derived from embryos.”
The company expects to have a lead adult stem cell modulating drug, in a cancer-related indication, enter the clinic in 2008.
Fate Therapeutics’ Revolutionary Platform is Two-Fold
The Fate platform focuses on both regenerative and reprogramming medicine. The Fate regenerative medicine platform involves developing drugs that awaken adult stem cells in the body to repair damaged cells and tissues. The Fate reprogramming medicine platform involves developing drugs to reprogram mature adult cells into stem cells, which when differentiated can become healthy heart, bone, brain or other tissues.
Applications of these two approaches include treating the effects of neurological diseases such as Down syndrome, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s; healing damaged heart tissue after heart attacks; increasing bone and muscle strength in the severely frail; and protecting organs after infection or transplantation. Fate will also tackle devastating cancers, such as pancreatic and colorectal cancer, by developing drugs to prevent the expansion and maturation of cancer stem cells.
Fate’s Approach Differs Significantly from Others Working with Stem Cells
To date, most stem cell companies have focused on cell therapy using harvested cells from cord blood or other tissues. In contrast, Fate’s approach focuses exclusively on traditional therapeutics, namely small molecules and protein therapeutics, to direct cell fate. In addition to its novel approach, Fate’s work has potential broad application across all degenerative diseases, developmental disorders and cancers, and in enabling the creation of healthy patient-identical cells for transplantation.
“We have looked at investing in many stem cell companies, but the science and commercial reality just wasn’t there yet,” said Robert Nelsen, founding partner of ARCH Venture Partners, whose firm co-founded Fate. “Now is the perfect storm; the right biology breakthroughs; a targeted way to use real drugs; and the leading scientists, entrepreneurs, and investors -- all in the same company to develop breakthrough medicines.”
Founders’ Breakthroughs Are Breathtaking in Scope and Implication
Fate’s founders include researchers from across the United States and multiple scientific disciplines, including basic biology, biological chemistry and translational medicine. As authors of many of the most far-ranging breakthroughs in stem cell science, the team is defining the changes in the field:
Philip Beachy, Ph.D., Stanford University Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine and HHMI, has pioneered the use of synthetic small molecules and natural products to manipulate activities of developmental and stem cell signaling pathways in vitro and in vivo.
Sheng Ding, Ph.D., Scripps Research Institute, has worked on the identification of small molecules and genes that control cell fate, including cell reprogramming and differentiation. Dr. Ding’s work has important implications for the development of small molecule drugs that can potentiate adult stem cells in vivo, and reprogram differentiated cells to new functions.
Randall Moon, Ph.D., University of Washington, Director, Institute for Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine, HHMI, and UW Department of Pharmacology, has focused on illuminating the biological pathways that control adult stem cells during the process of regeneration to develop new therapeutic methods to activate regeneration.
David Scadden, M.D., Professor, Harvard University, Co-director and Co-founder, Harvard Stem Cell Institute, Director Massachusetts General Hospital Center for Regenerative Medicine, has broken new ground in understanding how blood forming stem cells and other adult stem cells are maintained in the adult body in specialized niches, and in developing therapies that exploit this biology to modulate adult stem cells in vivo.
Leonard Zon, M.D., Harvard University, Director of the Stem Cell Program, Children’s Hospital of Boston and HHMI, is a world expert on the biology of adult blood forming stem cells and methods of enhancing their function for cancer and regenerative medicine applications.