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AMS Spring 2023

With $35M Bioprinting Investment Prellis Biologics Takes on New CEO

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Organ bioprinting startup Prellis Biologics raised $35 million in a Series C round and plans to use the fresh capital to expand its proprietary, first-in-class human immune system-based drug discovery and development platform. Dubbed the Externalized Immune System (EXIS), the platform allows researchers to discover antibodies by mimicking the lymph node. However, taking EXIS to the next level will demand much more, which is why the company has taken on a new CEO and a Nobel Prize winning board member.

Pharma Vet as CEO

Along with the funding, Prellis also announced it has reeled in Mike Nohaile as CEO. The molecular biology expert leaves his CSO post at Flagship Pioneering’s AI biotech Generate Biomedicines and years in big pharma companies like Novartis and Amgen to build Prellis’ next-generation medicines.

“I am honored to join the Prellis Bio team and to partner with Melanie and the entire Prellis team to further build on their inspiring vision for the next generation of medicines,” indicated Nohaile. “This new chapter and investment will enable our team to bring better medicines to patients who desperately need them.”

Prellis Biologics new CEO Michael Nohaile.

Prellis Biologics’ new CEO Michael Nohaile. Image courtesy of Business Wire.

With Nohaile joining the Prellis team and succeeding founder Melanie Matheu – who will assume the role of Chief Technology Officer (CTO) and retain a board seat – the company will gain new expertise in leveraging innovative technologies for therapeutic discovery and development. Nohaile received his Ph.D. in molecular and cell biology from the University of California, Berkeley, and completed his postdoctoral fellowship at MIT-how in digital health and artificial intelligence know-how to speed drug development and clinical trials.

Founded in 2016, San Fransisco-based Prellis employs holographic tissue printing technology with fully human antibody discovery and in vitro human disease models. The biotech uses advanced bioprinting and tissue engineering to build lymph nodes replicating the immune system as part of an accessible, scalable platform to discover novel targets and therapeutic antibodies. The goal is to predict, test, and select the best drug candidates at an unprecedented speed, accelerating therapeutics into clinical trials. By creating better medicines faster, Prellis hopes to serve patients most in need.

Bioprinting Tissues and Organoids

Prellis believes its EXIS platform will reduce the time to discover new antibodies from nine months to just 16 days while also discovering antibodies to combat disease and reducing animal testing drastically. In fact, the latter objective is in line with a global trend that in the U.S. has led to a decision by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to eliminate all mammal testing by 2035, making it the first federal agency to put a hard deadline on phasing out animal use. In addition, animal rescue teams, like the nonprofit Humane Society, are moving quickly to retrieve animals bred for lab or cosmetic research, like the most recent rescue of 4,000 beagles from a mass breeding facility that would have been bound for animal testing laboratories across the country. This industry-wide move away from extensive use of animal testing in pre-clinical development means platforms like EXIS will be in demand shortly.

Prellis biologics lead chemist Milad Khorrami at work formulating and testing different hydrogel formulations. Image courtesy of Prellis Biologics.

Prellis’s industry-leading two-photon holographic technology supports the 3D printing of large, complex tissue co-culture systems, such as lymph node organoids (LNOs), constructed with implanted immune cells from donors to mimic the human immune response in vitro. The EXIS platform incorporates LNOs to discover fully human antibodies with broad genetic diversity in as little as three to four weeks. The antibodies exhibiting unique functional properties — such as a high affinity for binding — could be selected as drug candidates for hard-to-cure diseases like the Marburg virus, different cancers, and more. Enabling meaningful improvement in clinical outcomes, the platform could become the gold standard in drug discovery for the pharmaceutical industry.  In addition, EXIS allows the assessment of immunogenicity in response to therapeutic candidates.

“The LNO technology represents a significant breakthrough in access to human immunobiology. Previously, immune cells were expected to respond without the biological context of a functional lymph node,” said Matheu. “With 3D printed LNOs, we have the opportunity to accelerate drug discovery and development while acquiring data on human immune responses all outside of the context of a clinical trial.”

Attracting a Nobel Prize Winner

In just a few years, Prellis’ technology has captivated the attention of over 12 investors. Including Celesta Capital and Avidity Partners, which led the last $35 million Series C round, with participation from Khosla Ventures, SOSV, True Ventures, and Lucas Venture Group. The new investment brings the total raised by Prellis to $64.9 million.

According to Avidity Partners Senior Therapeutics Analyst and new Prellis board member Lei Meng, the company’s differentiated LNOs generated by holographic two-photon 3D printing technology can potentially transform the landscape of antibody discovery and preclinical assessment of biologics.

Similarly, Prellis Board Chairman and Founding Managing Partner of Celesta Capital Michael Marks said that the multi-billion-dollar antibody therapeutics market is held back by slow discovery and drug candidates that carry genetic artifacts that may result in undesired effects in patients.

“Until now, data on the human immune response to guide the development of effective drugs or vaccines has only been available through large, expensive clinical trials,” said Marks. “Prellis Bio’s platform dramatically accelerates the discovery and delivery of developable, high-affinity human antibodies.”

Aside from the funding and new CEO, Prellis announced the addition of Nobel Prize winner James Rothman as a new board member. The American biochemist and Fergus F. Wallace, professor of Biomedical Sciences at Yale University, was awarded the 2013 Nobel Prize in medicine together with Randy Schekman and Thomas C. Südhof for “their discoveries of machinery regulating vesicle traffic, a major transport system in our cells.”

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