Technologists are getting better at coding biology and venture firms are flooding a new generation of startups with cash so they can commercialize their technology bringing in the next wave of genetic innovation.
Tessera Therapeutics, the Boston-based spin-up from Flagship Pioneering, is the latest company to enter the mix with $ 230 million in new financing to build up its platform for better biological programming.
The round was led by Alaska Permanent Fund Corp., Altitude Life Science Ventures and the second SoftBank Vision Fund, with participation from the Qatari Investment Authority and other undisclosed investors.
Last year, the company took the covers off its gene-writing service, which combined an array of different gene editing, manufacturing and synthesizing technologies to provide more tailored therapeutic instructions to genetic code.
By providing more instructions to genetic material, the company aims to increase the precision of therapies while expanding the number of potential pathogens or mutations they can target, the company said in a statement.
The thesis is similar to the approach taken by companies like Senti Bio, another early-stage biotech company that raised $ 105 million earlier this month.
“The ability to write in the code of life will be a defining technology of this century and drive a fundamental change in medicine. Today’s support is a testament to Tessera’s outstanding team of scientists and our focus on bringing the extraordinary promise of Gene Writing to patients,” said Geoffrey von Maltzahn, CEO and co-founder of Tessera Therapeutics, and a partner at Flagship Pioneering. “We look forward to turning this powerful technology into a new category of medicines.”
Part of a number of companies focused on gene therapies and gene-editing technologies that have been developed under the Flagship Pioneering umbrella, Tessera Therapeutics focuses on the development of new therapies that will use messenger RNA, targeted fusogenic vectors and epigenetic controllers, according to Flagship Pioneering founder and chief executive Noubar Afeyan, who also serves as the chair and co-founder of Tessera.
While Senti Bio is adding more programming to existing genetic material, Tessera uses mobile genetic elements, the most abundant genetic material in the body to create new vectors for writing and rewriting the human genome.
The company asserts that this represents a breakthrough in genetic engineering, which can build better therapies. That’s because the technology can target very specific sites in the genome to make any substitutions, insertions or deletions in genetic code. Tessera also said that its tech allows for more efficient engineering of somatic cell genomes without double stranded-breaks and with very little reliance on DNA repair pathways.
Gene writing is inspired by and builds upon the shoulders of nature’s most prevalent class of genes: mobile genetic elements. Tessera’s computational and high-throughput laboratory platform has enabled the team to design, build and test thousands of engineered and synthetic mobile genetic elements for writing and rewriting the human genome.
The company said it can also write entirely new sequences into the genome by delivering only RNA.
With the new round of funding, Tessera said it would look to further develop its tech, hire more staff and establish manufacturing and automation capabilities critical for its platform and programs.
Investors in this round
The round was led by Red Circle Investments, the investment company of Renzo Rosso (founder of Diesel and president of fashion group OTB). With this development, Rosso will be joining the Board of Directors of Cortilia. Besides, existing investors, including Indaco Ventures, Five Seasons Ventures, Primomiglio, and P101 SGR also participated in this round.
Cortilia becomes A-corp
Cortilia also announced that it has updated its Articles of Association to officially become a Benefit Corporation (B-Corp).
Companies that are certified B Corporations ‘meet the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability to balance profit and purpose’, according to B-corp’s website.
The aim is to drive private companies to play their part in solving some of society’s most challenging problems. B Corps actively work to reduce inequality, create a healthier environment and have a positive impact. Not just by taking symbolic steps, but instead by looking at every single aspect of their organisation.
Speaking on the development, Marco Porcaro, CEO of Cortilia says “Our transformation into a Benefit Corporation is confirmation of our focus on social-economic and environmental sustainability in our activities, with particular attention to the valorisation of the agricultural fabric of our wonderful country.”
He further added that “The new Articles of Association provide for various objectives aimed at the common good, from the reduction of direct and indirect environmental impact to the promotion of short food supply chains for the benefit of local producers and customers; from transparency and accurate information to the raising of consumer awareness regarding a sustainable lifestyle; from involving and giving voice to stakeholders in decisional processes to the creation of a company community that promotes a culture of inclusion, ethic and sustainability.”
Use of the raised capital
Cortilia intends to use the funds to further develop the presence of its services throughout Italy, and invest in the latest technologies to continue operating with the highest standards of quality, safety and sustainability.
Everything about Cortilia
Founded by Marco Porcaro in 2011, Cortilia is an online grocery delivery company that offers products from local farmers. The company has a catalogue of 2,500 food products and is promoting a model of sustainable and healthy consumption.
Its services are currently operational in the Italian regions of Lombardy, Emilia-Romagna, and Piedmont. It allows consumers to receive fresh produce from farmers, breeders and artisans, delivered safely and on time.
According to the company, in 2020, it had a turnover of €33M, with growth rate of +175% over 2019. More than 250 SMEs local producers are integrated in Cortilia’s short supply chain.