Eli Lilly & Co. is partnering with Cambridge, Mass.-based Sigilon Therapeutics to develop encapsulated cell therapies for patients with type 1 diabetes. Sigilon will receive $63 million up front, an undisclosed equity investment from Lilly, and up to $410 million in milestone payments.
Sigilon was founded in 2016 to make cell therapies that secrete proteins like antibodies, enzymes, and insulin in the body without causing a fibrotic immune response. The response, which immobilizes implanted cells, has stymied many previous attempts at cell therapy.
Sigilon says it overcomes the response by coating its cells with a polymer called Afibromer, based on the research of scientific cofounders and MIT scientists Daniel Anderson and Robert Langer. The firm announced raising $23.5 million in series A funding in June 2017.
In collaborating with Lilly, Sigilon will make Afibromer-encapsulated pancreatic beta cells—which are damaged or missing in type 1 diabetes patients—to be implanted in the body for prolonged insulin production.
In 2016, Anderson, Langer, and colleagues demonstrated the technique’s potential in diabetic mice. The team first coated human beta cells in an algae-derived alginate polymer that was chemically modified with triazole-thiomorpholine dioxide. The result was a porous biomaterial that lets molecules like insulin flow in and out but blocks the fibrotic immune response (Nat. Med. 2016, DOI: 10.1038/nm.4030).
The cells consistently controlled the animal’s glucose levels for the six months they were implanted.
The Lilly-Sigilon collaboration is unusual because most cell therapies are in development for cancer. Sigilon is also pursuing therapies for blood disorders and lysosomal storage disorders.