The University of Rochester’s agreement with longtime partner Sana Biotechnology will aid in the expansion of the preclinical-stage firm’s manufacturing capabilities and add jobs in Rochester.
The deal, announced a couple of weeks ago, will allow Sana Biotechnology to build out its operations at the UR Medical Center’s cell-based manufacturing facility to support research and development of investigational therapies for diseases such as Huntington’s disease, Pelizaeus-Merzbacher disease, and secondary progressive multiple sclerosis, URMC officials say.
Sana Biotechnology plans to hire up to 10 people in manufacturing, quality assurance, and quality control over the next two years to operate the facility. The move will also enable Sana Biotechnology to offer manufacturing capabilities across its portfolio.
Based in Seattle, Sana Biotechnology is developing engineered cells as medicines. The company, which also has locations in Cambridge, Mass., and San Francisco, engineers cells inside and outside the body for therapies that target various conditions including cancer, type 1 diabetes, heart disease, central nervous system ailments and genetic disorders.
Sana Biotechnology’s ties to URMC connect to Steve Goldman M.D.’s research. Goldman was appointed as its head of CNS therapy in 2020 when Sana acquired Oscine, a UR startup that Goldman co-founded with Christina Trojel-Hansen.
For several years, Goldman’s lab worked to understand the molecular function and biology of glial support cells or glial progenitor cells in the central nervous system. These cells differentiate into vital support cells of the central nervous system such as oligodendrocytes and astrocytes. The disappearance or malfunction of these cells lies at the root of many neurodegenerative and myelin disorders such as multiple sclerosis and Huntington’s disease.
Replacing malfunctioning cells with healthy ones can slow, and in some cases, reverse disease progression in animal models of these diseases, Goldman’s lab has demonstrated.
With an eye toward moving cell-replacement strategies forward, Goldman, co-director of the URMC Center for Translational Neuromedicine, and Trojel-Hansen co-founded Oscine in 2017. The company licensed intellectual property developed in Goldman’s lab at Cornell University and UR. A year later, Sana Biotechnology and Oscine entered into an agreement that enabled collaboration, licensing and an option to purchase. That deal also included supporting research at URMC.
Sana Biotechnology continues to back research in Goldman’s lab at URMC, officials say. Cell lines, gene-edited cell lines, and differentiated cells intended for use in human clinical trials will be developed at the URMC’s Cell and Tissue Manufacturing Facility.
CTMF was established to overcome a critical barrier in moving cell-based therapies into clinical trials—the manufacture of cells in a facility that meets federal requirements. The UR facility is compliant with guidelines necessary to produce human cells for scientific investigation and use in new therapeutics.
Despite a long path to revenue and profits, Sana Biotechnology, whose shares trade publicly (NASDAQ: SANA), is being closely watched by investors. On Tuesday, its stock closed at $7.51 a share, toward the low end of its 52-week range of $26.60-$3.92. In May, the company said it is on track to file two investigational new drug applications with the Food and Drug Administration to begin human trials this year.