“History repeats, but science reverberates.”― Siddhartha Mukherjee, The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer
As we reach the “read/write” stage of biology, evolution is proving to be the ultimate algorithm, allowing us to increasingly program biological systems. A foundational shift in biology from being an empirical science towards becoming an engineered discipline is underway across almost every aspect of human medicine, including cellular therapy. The cellular therapy revolution is opening up vast new possibilities in overcoming some of the largest threats to human health — including the emperor of all maladies, cancer. Despite an almost epic war against cancer spanning decades, cancer exploits the fundamental logic of evolution unlike any other illness and still looms as a terrifying and deadly plague on the human race, and a true cure still eludes modern medical science.
Since the discovery of Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells (iPSCs), for which Yamanaka won the Nobel prize in 2012, tailored cellular therapies based on iPSCs are poised to become one of the most revolutionary new treatments for cancer and other serious illnesses to be developed in the early 21st century. These therapies offer the hope of cures where once only symptomatic treatments were available and stand alongside small molecules and biologics as tools for treatment of not only cancer but other devastating illnesses such as diabetes, heart disease and even neurological diseases. However, today cell therapies are expensive and not scalable, as human cells cannot yet be affordably mass-produced to be broadly available, while some cell types are altogether impossible to obtain, and the development of new drugs has not kept up with the near-revolutionary progress in biology.
bit bio is a spinout of the University of Cambridge that has developed a unique method of precise cellular reprogramming, called OptiOx (optimised inducible over-expression), that enables translation of entire cultures of iPSCs into any desired cell type. When realised, bit bio’s technology aims to provide widespread access to a broad spectrum of human cells that will enable a new generation of medicine. The company’s technology combines the strengths of synthetic and stem cell biology to overcome the hurdles of conventional stem cell approaches to unlock their full potential, while avoiding ethical issues associated with the use of embryonic stem cells.
Pluripotent stem cells hold great promise for regenerative medicine. By rendering the reprogramming of these cells “deterministic” (i.e., similar to rebooting a computer with a new program), bit bio’s core technology allows for the simple addition of new cell type products that could transform the emerging cell therapy industry with a multi-cell type platform in areas such as immune oncology, skin disease, heart disease, diabetes and more. bit bio is building a platform that we believe can transform biomedical research by enabling scientists and innovators to focus on what they do best, and leverage bit bio’s cell coding platform to provide the cells, potentially allowing the company to play a significant role in a future where cancer and other illnesses could be eradicated.
We are excited to support the company’s goal to develop a scalable technology platform capable of producing consistent batches of every human cell type with their OptiOx technology. Since our seed investment a year ago (which we are only announcing today, together with the more recent $41.5m Series A announcement today), bit bio has created a high throughput research platform to identify transcription factor combinations that make up cell type programs and has brought together new technologies, expertise and operational scale which has the potential to significantly improve the speed, cost and success rate of bringing life-changing cellular therapies to patients. Going forward, bit bio plans to leverage this platform with advanced deep learning algorithms to accelerate the discovery of every single cell type of the human body. Meanwhile, bit bio has been validating their cells and making them available for research and drug discovery by working together with institutions and industrial partners.
We look forward to working with Mark Kotter and the entire bit bio team of pioneers in the field of stem cells, cellular reprogramming, machine learning and cell therapy.