Sana Biotechnology CEO Steve Harr shed extra gentle on one in all most secretive, closely funded startups in Seattle and the worldwide biotech business — detailing its plans to create instruments that change and restore human physique cells, with the potential to deal with varied ailments and create new medicines.
Harr spoke with biotechnology journalist Luke Timmerman, founding father of The Timmerman Report, this week on the GeekWire Summit. Sana raised more than $700 million this summer in one of many largest enterprise financing offers within the life sciences business and one of many greatest rounds on report in Seattle.
Based in 2019, the 250-person firm has an bold purpose of each repairing cells within the physique (gene remedy) and in addition changing broken cells (cell remedy). It’s led by a number of former executives from Juno Therapeutics, one other Seattle biotech firm that went public in 2014 and sold to Celgene for $9 billion in 2018.
Sana has saved a comparatively low profile since launching. It’s competing with a lot bigger entities which have deeper pockets and extra strong logistics capabilities. However Harr mentioned a startup resembling Sana has a key differentiator.
“We have one competitive advantage: we can make faster and better decisions,” he mentioned. “We get there because we have better people, we have greater focus, and we have better communication.”
Learn on for key takeaways from the dialog.
How Sana began: Harr and his former colleagues at Juno discovered lots about engineering cells and manipulating genes throughout their startup journey. Juno was amongst a handful of U.S. corporations making cutting-edge most cancers immunotherapy therapies.
However additionally they knew there was extra alternative in a nascent business of gene and cell remedy.
“We wanted to build the transformative or winning company of this next era, of the next 20 years,” Harr mentioned. “To do that, we had to break the model of what biotech is, which is typically taking an idea and figuring out where to apply it best.”
Sana as an alternative is attempting to construct the platform that may engineer cells and repair them, very similar to constructing a pc.
“There are a whole host of component parts that go into it,” Harr mentioned. “We have to aggregate the right technologies.”
Harr mentioned too many biotech corporations promote options seeking issues. He likened it to somebody displaying up with a tiny screwdriver and on the lookout for a unfastened screw to repair. Harr sees Sana extra as a toolbox that may assist construct the appropriate medication for the appropriate affected person.
Sana is focusing on varied illness areas, together with most cancers, diabetes, genetic problems, and extra. “They are relatively diverse, but there are some really fundamental underlying platform and strategy principles that drive each of those,” Harr mentioned.
Sana’s secret sauce: One key focus for the corporate is reimagining the supply system for these therapies — learn how to get DNA, RNA, proteins, and so on. right into a cell. “Ultimately at the core, what we’re trying to do is really improve delivery, and really figure out how to hide cells from the immune system,” Harr mentioned.
Hiding re-engineered or changed cells from one’s immune system is essential to stop the opportunity of the physique rejecting the brand new cells.
Harr additionally talked about delivering remedy through injection, with the physique turning into the “bioreactor.” It’s just like know-how constructed by Moderna and others. “You deliver the tools to enable your body to make its own medicine,” Harr mentioned.
Manufacturing: Sana can also be aiming to innovate how gene and cell therapies are produced and distributed at scale. They’re sometimes costly — Timmerman mentioned CAR T-cell immunotherapies for most cancers ran within the $300,000-to-$400,000 vary per affected person. Determining manufacturing prices at scale and making it lower than present various strategies of look after sufferers will likely be key to the power of Sana’s enterprise. Harr added that “you have to do it in a way that’s constructive for the system.”
Headcount: Sana employs 250 folks unfold throughout workplaces in Seattle, the Bay Space, and Cambridge, Mass. Having three outposts helps the corporate appeal to the perfect expertise, Harr mentioned. One benefit to elevating a lot capital is with the ability to rent the perfect of us. Final month Sana added prime scientists Ed Rebar and Terry Fry to the chief group.
“If you really hire one of the true world leaders in something, it is pretty amazing how quickly teams form around them,” Harr famous.
Cash issues: Having greater than $700 million within the financial institution helps Sana in varied different methods. Harr mentioned quite a lot of biotech corporations usually run what quantity to experiments to justify elevating extra capital. “We have the privilege of running experiments to find truth as fast as you want to,” he mentioned. “And then we want to have the balance sheet, technologies, and people to be able to grapple with whatever the truth is.”
Timeline: Harr mentioned the corporate is on observe with its unique technique however doesn’t plan on promoting medication within the subsequent two years. It can progress with a number of medicines in parallel, not separately, Harr mentioned.
Management recommendation: Through the pandemic and distant work, Harr mentioned he’s began to achieve out to four-to-six folks at Sana every week that he wouldn’t usually speak with. He holds half-hour conferences to talk about what they’re engaged on, and what management may do to make their life or job higher. “I found that to be just such an invigorating way to learn what’s going on,” he mentioned.
[The total interview with Harr, and different GeekWire Summit classes, can be found on-demand solely to attendees of the digital occasion. Learn more and register here.]