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Fred Hutch researcher and Nohla's Cheif Medical officer Colleen Delaney, who pioneered the cord blood transplants which Nola is developing. (Fred Hutch Photo)
Director of the Fred Hutch Cord Blood Program and Nohla’s Chief Medical officer Colleen Delaney, who pioneered the cord blood transplants which Nola is developing. (Fred Hutch Photo)

Seattle-based Nohla Therapeutics, a biotech startup spun out of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, just announced a whopping $43.5 million Series A round, bringing the startup’s total funding to date to just under $65 million.

The round was led by Arch Venture Partners and included 5AM Ventures and existing investor the Jagen Group.

Dr. Steven Gillis, a managing director at Arch and former CEO of Corixa, and Dr. Brian Daniels, a Venture Partner at 5AM, will join Nohla’s board.

Nohla's interim CEO Michael Sistenich. (Nohla Therapeutics Photo)
Nohla’s interim CEO Michael Sistenich. (Nohla Therapeutics Photo)

The startup’s programs are developing the cord blood transplant, a procedure pioneered by Delaney, who also serves as the director of Fred Hutch’s Cord Blood Program. Michael Sistenich, Nohla’s interim CEO, told GeekWire that the funding will propel the startup as it carries its two lead drug candidates through clinical trials.

One of those candidates, NLA 101, is midway through a Phase 2 clinical trial, and the second is projected to begin clinical trials in 2018.

The blood cord transplant procedure uses stem cells from donated umbilical cord blood to treat high-risk Leukemia patients, the same basic concept as traditional bone marrow transplants. A recent study conducted by Delaney and Fred Hutch’s Dr. Filippo Milano found that the method could be more effective than bone marrow transplants for certain  patients.

“Most importantly, there is an advantage to the use of cord blood when patients had any evidence of disease coming into their transplant,” Delaney told GeekWire in a previous interview, meaning some of the most high-risk patients responded best to the treatment.

But the procedure does have its limits: because there are a lower number of stem cells, patients take longer to recover than those who receive bone marrow transplants, resulting in a host of issues.

“And because of that, you have issues such as infection rates being higher because your white blood cells recover slower,” Sistenich said in an interview today. Patients also need platelet transplants as their platelet levels recover. This is what NLA 101 targets: it helps patients heal in every aspect following transplants. 

But Nohla’s tech could be applied to many more situations.

“What our technology does is that we have an ability to not only expand the number of stem cells, but also to determine stem cell state. And because of that, as the stem cells proliferate we are able to actually direct differentiation,” Sistenich said. “This is truly a platform that is more broadly applicable than just the two products we have at the moment.”

Early studies show that cord blood transplants appear to have better outcomes in the long-term than bone marrow transplants, and Delaney and Sistenich hope to help patients take advantage of that benefit by finding solutions to the procedure’s downsides.

Nohla was spun out of Fred Hutch in 2015, and enjoys a similar structure to immunotherapy company Juno Therapeutics: Nohla licenses tech and procedures developed by Delaney, with the hope of carrying those procedures through clinical trials and bringing them to market. The startup employs 19 in its Seattle headquarters.

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