See the 12-slide pitch deck a Flagship startup just used to raise $121 million to build an ‘unlimited platform’ for making new drugs

A headshot of Cellarity CEO Fabrice Chouraqui
  • The Massachusetts biotech Cellarity just raised $121 million in a Series C round. 
  • Flagship Pioneering, which founded COVID-19 vaccine-maker Moderna, created Cellarity in 2017. 
  • The biotech is focused on mapping cells and finding ways to make diseased cells healthy. 

The biotech Cellarity has raised another $121 million for its mission to develop a new way of creating drugs. 

Flagship Pioneering, the venture-creation firm behind COVID-19 vaccine developer Moderna, founded Cellarity in 2017 to build a new drug discovery platform that studies how cells go from healthy to dysfunctional. The goal is to restore those cells to health to treat that disease, creating new medicines in the process.

With the latest Series C, the Somerville, Massachusetts-based biotech has now raised $274 million in total.

In the spirit of all of Flagship’s startups, Cellarity is pursuing a big idea — “redesigning the way we create drugs,” CEO Fabrice Chouraqui told Insider. Most drug programs are built around a specific target,  like destroying a disease-causing protein.

Cellarity, instead, is studying diseased cells in their entirety rather than starting with specific druggable targets.

“We are unsatisfied with the excessive rate of failure of the current target-based drug discovery approach,” Chouraqui said. “The goal is to create medicine that we would not have been able to discover if we had started from a target.” 

Cellarity believes its approach can work against virtually all diseases. It is first focusing on metabolic disorders, blood disorders, and immunology. 

The company has yet to announce specific drug candidates, but Chouraqui said the Series C money will be used to nominate their first clinical candidates and move the first program into human testing. 

Cellarity announced the Series C 19 months after it raised a $123 million Series B round. Chouraqui declined to comment on Cellarity’s current valuation but said the startup’s valuation increased from the previous raise. Cellarity was valued at $393 million after its Series B round, according to PitchBook.

This non-confidential version of Cellarity’s deck doesn’t include how it plans to use the proceeds and additional research data.

Here’s the 12-slide pitch deck Cellarity used to raise a $121 million Series C from Flagship Pioneering, Kyowa Kirin, Hanwha Impact Partners, and other investors.

Cellarity’s research approach mixes biological and computational research. About two-thirds of Cellularity’s scientists are biologists or chemists, while the other third are computational biologists or machine-learning experts, Chouraqui said.

The biotech hopes it can improve the dismal research and development productivity rates of the drug industry by focusing on cells instead of molecular targets.

“By targeting the cell as a whole, the likelihood of addressing the underlying dysfunction of the disease is much higher,” Chouraqui said.

After spending more than 20 years at the pharma giants Novartis and Bristol Myers Squibb, Chouraqui joined Cellarity in 2020. He said Cellarity’s focus on cells is radically different than big pharma’s research mindset, which focuses in on specific targets in cells.

The startup is creating maps that show the journey a cell takes in going from healthy to diseased. It then looks for drug candidates that restore those cells to their healthy state.

Cellarity has tested an experimental compound to treat sickle cell disease that showed promising results in test tubes. Chouraqui said those results were “similar or even higher than compared to gene therapy.”

Those study results were previously published in the medical journal Blood.

Cellarity’s most advanced research programs are in metabolic and blood disorders, like sickle cell disease. The company has conducted research in monkeys in those areas.

“Every disease stems from a disorder at cell level. That’s why this approach can be applied to virtually every disease,” Chouraqui said.

Cellarity’s research is still early. The biotech has yet to announce its first drug candidates or provide a timeline to when it may start initial human testing.

After raising $123 million in 2021, Cellarity was named to the trade publication Fierce Biotech’s “Fierce 15” list in 2021.

Cellarity has 120 employees as of October. Chouraqui said he doesn’t have a target headcount to reach by the end of 2023 but expects to grow the company “at a measured pace” over the next year.

A key future milestone will be when, or if, Cellarity starts human testing for its first drug candidate. “It’s always a delicate balance between speed and quality, even more so when you’re in white space or uncharted territory,” Chouraqui said.

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