The South San Francisco-based company is developing the Cell Shuttle, a factory-in-a-box that enables end-to-end automation of the labor- and time-intensive process of creating highly-individualized cell therapies.
By manufacturing treatments on a single platform, it enables certain functions to be done simultaneously, speeding time to market by as many as two years and lowering costs by up to 75 percent, according to Fabian Gerlinghaus, co-founder and CEO of Cellares.
“We are creating the future of cell therapy manufacturing and access to life-saving therapies,” Gerlinghaus told Crunchbase News. “We are enabling pharmaceutical companies to manufacture at a scale that was previously impossible because of the lack of technology.”
The Series B round was led by new investor Decheng Capital and co-led by existing investor Eclipse Ventures, which led Cellares’ $18 million Series A in 2020. Also joining as a new investor was Skyviews Life Science, with previous investor 8VC also participating. The new funding brings Cellares’ total funding to $100 million since its inception in 2019, according to Crunchbase data.
Justin Butler, partner at Eclipse Ventures, said Cellares’ technology was personal to him: he lost his wife to cancer in 2017, and it drove him to learn about cell therapy and what companies focused on the space were doing.
Eclipse Ventures doesn’t typically invest in new drugs or cell therapy, but it does in supply chain, and when Butler met Gerlinghaus at a conference, Butler believed what Cellares was doing with cell therapy manufacturing was needed to get new drugs to the people who needed them.
“With cancer treatment, many people feel that if a drug gives you three months more of life, it is doing a good job,” Butler said in an interview. “When new modalities come along, there needs to be a new set of tools and framework at a cost, scale and timeline that is meaningful to the industry. Cellares is helping reduce costs and reduce the timeline.”
Cellares reached all of the major value inflection points following its first round of funding, driving the need for new funds, Gerlinghaus said.
He intends to deploy the new funding to continue developing technology for the Cell Shuttle, which is in the early phases of design and product development. Gerlinghaus expects it will be ready by 2023. Over the past year, Cellares was “moving with epic velocity,” quadrupling its employees to 40 people. He forecasts that doubling in the next year.
“It was clear that we were onto something big given our traction with customers and progress with the technology,” he added. “Biotech is capital intensive, so to get across the finish line and deliver our product to the market, we needed additional capital.”
The global cell therapy market size was valued at $7.8 billion in 2020, according to Grand View Research. Many pharmaceutical companies share the problem of scaling the manufacturing of drugs once they are approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Gerlinghaus said.
Pharmaceutical research firm Roots Analysis reported in 2020 that more than 20 cell-based therapies were approved, and there were more than 500 product candidates under development, as well as more than 1,000 active clinical studies of cell therapies going on worldwide.
Cell Shuttle aims to enable those companies to meet the demand, as well as reduce manufacturing costs and the risk of process failure, he added.
“This is not a small industry, the sector attracted $11 billion in funding in 2020 spread across 600 companies, and we are all working hard to get drugs approved by the FDA,” Gerlinghaus said. “The FDA projects to approve between 10 to 20 cell and gene therapies every year by 2025. Just a handful are approved right now, so what is coming down the pipeline is massive.”