AMS Spring 2023

Bioprinting Startup Satellite Bio Exits Stealth with Ex-Novartis Exec as CEO

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After years in the making, biotech research firm Satellite Bio emerged from stealth mode last week with more than $110 million in financing to pioneer an entirely new category of regenerative medicine called tissue therapeutics and announced former Novartis executive Dave Lennon as CEO.

Co-founded in 2019 by MIT Wilson Professor of Engineering Sangeeta Bhatia and Boston University William Fairfield Warren Professor of Biomedical Engineering Christopher Chen, Satellite Bio aims to restore organ function and provide treatment solutions for progressive and elusive diseases.

The company explains that through its exclusive Satellite Adaptive Tissue (SAT) platform, it can turn virtually any cell type into bioengineered tissues integrated into the body to restore natural function. These implantable therapy tissues, called Satellites, can deliver the comprehensive cellular response, in vivo, needed to repair or even replace critical organ functions in patients with diseases caused by genetic and environmental factors. Furthermore, Satellites can overcome many of the challenges that have hindered prior attempts to restore organ function and change the course of progressive and difficult-to-treat diseases.

“Tissue therapeutics replace organ and tissue systems that break down during disease progression. This next frontier of regenerative medicine has enormous potential to provide solutions for some of the most elusive diseases,” said Lennon, who holds a Ph.D. in molecular medicine from Cornell University and was President of Novartis’ Gene Therapies, where he launched the groundbreaking regenerative medicine Zolgensma®, gene therapy for spinal muscular atrophy.

Virtually any type of cell across many clinical applications can be used with the SAT platform, including primary, induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSC)-derived, or engineered cells. This can drive a pipeline of sophisticated cell-based therapeutic solutions across a broad range of clinical applications to tackle elusive diseases in patients.

Initial efforts will be focused on liver cells, which secrete proteins to clear toxins from the bloodstream. This is no coincidence, considering that Bhatia’s research began at MIT and Massachusetts General Hospital when she started to work on finding a way to keep liver cells alive outside the body so that they could be used to filter the blood of patients with liver disease. Even though that was twenty years ago, she was focused on creating a “microliver” technology that was very successful and is currently used by over 40 biotech and pharmaceutical companies worldwide to test their drugs for liver toxicity before they enter clinical trials.

Later, with Chen and fellow researchers, Bhatia began developing “satellite livers,” which consisted of liver cells on a specially patterned matrix of blood vessels and transplanted them into their disease model. Once the scientists realized that “satellite livers” could improve outcomes for patients suffering from liver disease, establishing Satellite Bio was the obvious next step.

Today, the startup has an exclusive license to the unprecedented technology originating in the labs of Bhatia and Chen, and the duo also shares co-founding credit with Arnav Chhabra, an MIT PostDoctoral Fellow and head of the Satellite Bio Platform research and development group.

The bioprinting startup is the culmination of decades-long work by the founding duo, who began research into the technology, biology, and engineering of tissue therapeutics in the early 2000s. Building on the work of Dr. Robert Langer (founder of tissue engineering in regenerative medicine) and others, they combined more than two decades of collaborative research in tissue technology, biology, and bioengineering to create this new class of regenerative medicine called tissue therapeutics.

Throughout this time, they have also been heavily involved in bioprinting research, even becoming part of the Wyss Institute’s 3D Organ Engineering initiative, where they work closely with microscale 3D printing pioneer Jennifer Lewis to bring “the know-how about how to go in vivo with engineered organs” and ultimately grow tissues that are large enough to help patients.

From left to right: Satellite Bio Co-founders Sangeeta Bhatia and Christopher Chen, and CEO Dave Lennon. Satellite Bio Co-founders Sangeeta Bhatia and Christopher Chen, and CEO Dave Lennon. Images courtesy of Satellite Bio.

Before coming out of stealth mode, Satellite Bio raised $110 million in previously undisclosed Seed and Series A funding. The recent Series A round, which concluded on March 2022, was led by aMoon Growth and included prior seed-stage co-lead investors Lightspeed Venture Partners, aMoon Velocity, Polaris Partners, and Polaris Innovation Fund. In addition, new Series A investors included Section 32, Catalio Capital Management, and Waterman Ventures. The funds will support the development of the bioengineered tissues to repair, restore or replace a critical organ or tissue function, as Satellite Bio ultimately sets out to incorporate tissue therapeutics at point-of-care in the clinic.

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