January 25, 2022

Cellino and the Promise of Personalized Stem Cells

By
Tobi Coker

Today is a special day, in more ways than one. I, along with the rest of the Felicis team, am celebrating the announcement of an investment into a company we are extremely excited about, Cellino.

***At the time of writing Cellino was exclusively focused on autologous stem cell engineering. As such, this piece centers around this process. However, the company is now considering both autologous and allogeneic manufacturing. An amazing development and one that will expand the universe for Cellino!

Who/What is Cellino?

Cellino is a stem cell engineering company headquartered in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The company’s mission is to make personalized stem cells accessible for all patients, regardless of price and patient-cell compatibility (which I will dive into later in this post). At the heart of it, Cellino is working to improve the process of generating induced pluripotent stem cells for cell therapy treatment. I am well aware of the flurry of technical jargon included in the previous sentence and, as such, will take some time to break down exactly what this means.

The Science

First, let’s start with what stem cells are and why they are special. Fundamentally, stem cells are “immature” cells that are capable of developing into a variety of specific “mature” cells in the body. Stem cells differ from other cells in the body in three critical ways:

  1. They can divide and renew themselves over a long time.
  2. They are unspecialized.
  3. They have the potential to become “virtually any” specialized, mature cell.

The last feature - the potential to become specialized cells - is what makes stem cells so valuable.

Of course, origin matters. Today, stem cells are derived from either embryonic or adult cells. For cost and bioethical reasons, adult cells are favored for use in research and treatment. Adult cells consist of Tissue-specific stem cells, Mesenchymal stem cells and Induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs).

Cellino is working with the latter, induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs). iPSCs are normal cells that are induced into becoming pluripotent, or embryonic. This is accomplished by reversing the natural progression of cellular development, generating a pluripotent state. These cells can then be programmed to develop into any mature cell type, such as skin or muscle.  

Why This Matters

The implications of this are massive. Essentially, iPSCs enable the use of a patient’s own cells to treat disease. Sounds too good to be true, right?

Unfortunately, yes. For the vast majority of time stem cell therapies have been available to the public, the prevailing standard of care has been allogeneic cell therapy, which involves using stem cells from a donor-generated bank of generic stem cells. Useful, but riddled with limitations and drawbacks including a lack of specificity and inefficacy, or cellular rejection.

Autologous cell therapies have the potential to be extremely valuable for a variety of medical and research indications, particularly for advancing the standard of care for cell therapy disease treatment, which often involves the need to replace dead or damaged cells (with stem cells).

Potential diseases that have the potential to be treated with stem cell therapy include, but are certainly not limited to, Leukemia, Lymphoma, Parkinson’s, Diabetes, and certain types of cancers.

Figure 1. Whereas Allogeneic cells are processed from generic cells that come from a stem cell bank, Autologous cells are derived from the patients’ themselves and reverse engineered to become pluripotent.

Cellino’s Role

The process of generating iPSCs is currently very time-intensive, expensive, and low yielding. While there are many factors at play, both technical and biological, manufacturing will be a critical part of the solution. Cellino is addressing these limitations using a closed cassette and laser editing system. This process allows for a much more precise editing (and removal) of non-viable pluripotent stem cells, which in turn, improves the yield of each stem cell therapy exponentially. By improving the yield of each stem cell therapy, Cellino aims to bring down the cost and time associated with administering cell therapies.

While this is extremely ambitious, we are confident that the CEO, Nabiha Saklayen, PhD, is the type of leader capable of executing on this vision. Her background, including a PhD, MA, and BS in Physics, is perfectly suited to run a company taking a multi-disciplinary approach to solving this difficult problem. Her unique ability to articulate success has, and will continue, to unlock the capital required to execute on this future reality.  

Cellino will bring a step-change difference to the manufacturing, and ultimately widespread utilization, of autologous stem cell therapies. We expect this market, which already sits at ~$10.2B and is growing at 18.3% CAGR, by some estimates, to be catalyzed by these advancements.

Ultimately, we are energized by the prospect of a world in which stem cell therapy is affordable and personalized for everyone. We could not be more excited to support Nabiha and the rest of the Cellino team.

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