On January 4, 2019, Sana Biotechnology became the latest regenerative medicine company to enter the marketplace, founded by former Juno Therapeutics executives Hans Bishop and Steve Harr, among other all-star executives. With operations in Seattle, WA, Cambridge, MA and San Francisco, CA, the company will be focused on creating engineered cells as medicines for patients.
Based on preliminary company statements, Sana seems to be interested in reproducing the business model and the financial success that characterized Juno Therapeutics – specifically, its ability to attract top talent from across the marketplace, accumulate investor funds, and exit for a major windfall.
The company is a spin-out from Flagship Pioneering and is backed by notable investors that include ARCH Venture Partners & F-Prime Capital. The earliest public mention of the Sana Biotechnology is a trademark application filed August 2018, although it has presumably been assembling its leadership team and IP portfolio for longer.
Founding Executives of Sana Biotechnology
While it is all too early to tell what fate will deal Sana Biotechnology, it is clear that the company is attracting top talent from across the cell and gene therapy marketplace. Steve Harr will be the company’s CEO, a logical step as he previously served as CFO at Juno Therapeutics. Its Chief Development Officer (CDO) will be Sunil Agarwal, another Juno alum who served previously as the company’s President of R&D.
The company’s Founding Executive Team will include additional all-stars, such as:
- Steve Harr, M.D., President and Chief Executive Officer
- Sunil Agarwal, M.D., Chief Development Officer and Head of Portfolio Strategy
- Chad Cowan, Ph.D., Chief Scientific Officer
- Andy May, DPhil, Chief Technology Officer
- Robin Andrulevich, Chief People Officer
- Nate Hardy, Chief Financial Officer
- Christian Hordo, Chief Business Officer
- James MacDonald, General Counsel
Sana’s Strategic Focus
With the strong influence of former Juno executives among its leadership, Sana Biotechnology will presumably focus on novel cell therapies, with an emphasis on creating, manufacturing, and optimizing the delivery of engineered cells to patients.
More specifically, Sana announced that it will be developing core capabilities around:
- Making cells at scale ex vivo to replace any damaged or missing cells in the body,
- In vivo delivery to specific cell types of any payload – including DNA, RNA, and proteins to reprogram cells,
- Immunology expertise to hide allogeneic cells (cells from a donor) or delivery vehicles from the immune system so that the body does not reject or eliminate them,
- Controllable gene and protein expression systems,
- Scaled, cost-efficient manufacturing solutions, and
- Discovery and development of new technologies that will enable the ultimate breadth of application of cell and gene engineering.
Sana Biotechnology Funding
Backed by world renowned investors ARCH Venture Partners & F-Prime Capital, rumors have it that Sana Biotechnology may be working on raising as much as $1 billion in investor funding, a staggering goal for a newcomer to the regenerative medicine scene.
Of course, this goal makes sense in the context of having former Juno executives as the company’s Co-Founders. In December 2014, Juno raised $265 million by selling 11 million primary shares in an IPO that was the largest biotech IPO of the year. Juno followed this three years later (January 2018) with an acquisition by Celgene Corporation for $9 billion in cash, representing an amazing ROI for a 37-month period.
With this context, it makes sense that these former Juno executives are “going big” with their venture funding pursuits and likely have investors clamoring to get in on the deal.
As the company succinctly stated in its launch announcement, “Sana is bringing together research, development, and manufacturing capabilities across cell therapy, gene therapy, and gene editing as well as a team of executives, board members, investors, and scientists with deep experience in these areas.”