CellPly, a Bologna-based company specializing in pioneering solutions in the field of medical bioengineering, closed a 2 million euros round for the creation of an analytical solution for the development of cell therapies in oncology. New investors include LIFTT with a €800,000 contribution and Recomec. Reinvesting in the company are the members of Italian Angels for Growth with €700,000, Indaco, Meta Ventures and Rearden.
The objective of the team of investors is to complete the development of the first units of the product and arrive at its commercialization within 12-18 months. A "state of the art" solution for the analysis of single immune cells contained within batches of cell therapies produced by biotech companies and cancer institutes. Current immuno-oncological cell therapies have a limitation: the cells taken and re-injected to patients after genetic modification are not always effective and present heterogeneity not only among different patients, but also among different cells of the same sample. Another obstacle is their high cost due to the long time required for research and development to develop the therapies given the complex mechanism of action, and the significant costs for manufacturing and quality control. These limitations slow down the development of a therapeutic technique that has the enormous potential to not only treat, but cure cancer patients.
Cellply presents itself as a game-changer, overcoming these gaps thanks to the ability to measure the functionality of single immune cells within a batch of cell therapy, offering a tool that can accelerate research and development and ensure a more thorough quality control that’s more representative of the actual effectiveness of the product.
Cellply's unique feature is its ability to identify subpopulations of cells that, while appearing similar from a phenotype standpoint, have strong differences from a functional standpoint. CellPly's proprietary technology, through a combination of robotics, microfluidics, and artificial intelligence, enables massive screening of immune and tumor cell interactions that is performed automatically by an analytical tool. The platform then allows the quantification of the number of actually active cells, i.e., "killer" or "super killer" immune cells that are able to attack and eliminate cancer cells.
The unique data provided by this solution allows to accelerate the development and obtain a more efficient production of advanced therapies in oncology. The uniqueness of the technology represents the main competitive advantage over key players in the industry and is protected by a portfolio of seven patent families and over 50 patents filed in several countries.
The company, initially focused on the diagnostic business, has recently specialized in the cellular therapies segment, an exponentially growing market that now sees more than 1,300 active clinical trials (the growth rate compared to last year is over 40%). The target is represented by pharmaceutical companies and clinics that are developing new therapies or cell factories in the field of cell therapies and immuno-oncology.
Pharmaceutical companies need new tools that allow them to optimize their investments, accelerate development time thanks to a better understanding of the mechanism of action of these therapies, and reduce the risk of producing ineffective batches or even clinical trial failure. Each cell therapy administered has a cost of 350,000 euros per patient, and is not reimbursed in case of ineffectiveness, not to mention that authorities such as EMA and AIFI are requiring increasingly advanced processes in quality control of the characteristics and functionality of these types of therapies. Cellply's strong patent portfolio protects the use of the instrument both in the context of cell therapy and, in the future, in other segments that see the need for a more efficient characterization of the immune system, as in the case of monoclonal antibody-based therapies.
The project relies on a multidisciplinary founding team with successful entrepreneurial experience, composed of CEO Massimo Bocchi and Roberto Guerrieri, founder of Silicon Biosystem, sold to Menarini, and inventor of the fingerprint technology acquired by Apple. CellPly is in the most advanced area of development in oncology: immunotherapy, which is destined to profoundly change the therapy and treatment of tumors in the coming years.
The solution proposed by CellPly protects on one hand, the research investments of pharmaceutical companies and on the other hand the health of patients. "We want to offer to biotech and pharma companies and clinics developing new cell therapies a tool able to reduce development time, costs and risks - explains CEO Massimo Bocchi. We have developed a complex and automated analytical tool, with a technological core represented by a microfluidic device in which single live immune cells can interact with tumor cells in thousands of microstructures, allowing us to observe their function and behavior in a biologically relevant context. This allows us to analyze each cell therapy batch in detail by observing subpopulations of immune cells, identifying samples containing a greater number of active and effective cells and thus speeding up the processes of discovery and development of new cell therapies. The goal is to create a "Cell Pass", a tool that allows the monitoring of the functional characteristics - the so-called potency - of the product during development, production and after its administration to patients. This is a topic of high relevance in the field of cell therapy with a potentially huge impact on the development of immuno-oncology."
Great satisfaction from Guido Panizza, Head of Project Management at LIFTT: "The solution that we want to bring to market with CellPly has the potential to unlock the positive potential that cell therapies can offer in the fight against cancer. These therapies have shown the ability to cure cancer, but we need to make these treatments sustainable and therefore accessible to all patients who need them. To date, there are several cell therapy techniques, but they involve long lead times, low reproducibility and many specialized technicians for production and quality control. All this also results in a high risk of failure that is not acceptable either for the patient, because very often we are talking about serious diseases and there is no margin to try a second therapy, or for the pharmaceutical companies that produce the therapy."
Giovanni Tesoriere, CEO of LIFTT who has specific expertise on the subject by virtue of his past with Stefano Buono in the development of an oncology drug in AAA, later sold to Novartis, comments, "In line with its vision LIFTT invests in projects that result in important positive externalities, and never before as in this case we have noted how CellPly's solid business prospects are interconnected with a clear collective benefit. The intervention of LIFTT is important because the project CellPly is important, which can open a decisive perspective in the fight against cancer: a platform that in a few hours is able to give precise information on the characteristics and the degree of effectiveness of immunotherapies is a great help not only for biotech and pharmaceutical companies but also for the health system, doctors and patients."
Antonio Leone, Past Chairman IAG and Champion in this investment: "The members of Italian Angels for Growth were among the first to believe in CellPly in 2014, as it is a project of great importance in the oncology area. CellPly has demonstrated over the years to have a team with high-level skills and commitment. A project that gives honor to scientific research and Italian entrepreneurship. This capital increase confirms our confidence in CellPly's growth path and in the development of a business that has the opportunity to introduce a radical change in cancer treatment".
Davide Turco, CEO of Indaco: "We have believed from the beginning in the potential of CellPly's technology, investing in it with the Atlante Seed fund, and have followed step by step its team which, thanks to its extraordinary skills and commitment, has managed over time to develop a technological response to the growing market demand in the field of quality control for cell therapies. The entry of new qualified investors such as LIFTT and Recomec now represents an important accelerator in the development of the Cellply platform".