Flagship Pioneering Unveils Cellarity, the First Company to Discover Medicines Targeting Cell Behavior

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  • Unites network biology, artificial intelligence, and technology to power proprietary drug discovery platform
  • In less than a year, has identified multiple lead candidates, with in vivo proof of concept, across numerous therapeutic areas
  • Appoints accomplished executive team and board of directors
CAMBRIDGE, Mass.—December 10, 2019

Flagship Pioneering, a unique life sciences innovation enterprise, unveiled Cellarity, a first-of-its-kind therapeutics company that is discovering and developing medicines by studying and altering cell behaviors. Founded in 2017 in Flagship Labs, Flagship’s innovation foundry, Cellarity has developed a broad platform harnessing single-cell technologies and machine learning to unveil the network state of a given cell, defining the cell’s behavior. Cellarity’s platform digitizes and quantifies cellular behaviors, unravels the network dynamics that govern those behaviors, and generates medicines that can direct them. With the unique ability to discover drugs based on cellular behavior, Cellarity is dramatically increasing the success rate and speed of drug discovery.

Cellarity’s Pioneering Origins

Cellarity’s story began several years ago, when Flagship became interested in the prospect of using computation to target the full complexity of disease and to accelerate medical breakthroughs. Cellarity’s founders appreciated that cells—the fundamental units of life—are evolved, dynamic systems that possess diverse and interconnected networks critical to human health. The state of the molecular network defines a cell’s behavior, and a given cell type can display a multitude of behaviors. Many diseases are the result of altered cellular behaviors within a tissue. Cellarity is the first to use this insight to quantitatively characterize changes in cellular behaviors for a given disease and discover drugs that can course-correct them to a state of health.

In other fields—where the complexity of systems surpasses the human capacity for comprehension—computation has been used to discover governing principles in dynamic and high-dimensional data sets. In biology, not only can machine learning reveal these principles, it can also generate accurate predictions for how to control them to accelerate medical breakthroughs.

“For years, our Flagship Labs team appreciated that biological processes and diseases operate at the level of networks, and they therefore explored better ways to characterize disease and discover effective drugs,” says Noubar Afeyan, Ph.D., Chief Executive Officer of Flagship Pioneering. “Recent AI and biology advances allow us to investigate this question in unprecedented ways. Cellarity has shown that not only can we embrace this complexity, but in fact we can also harness it to enable direct lead and drug generation, obviating the need for random screening paradigms.”

Led by Cellarity’s founding CEO and Flagship Pioneering Partner Avak Kahvejian, Ph.D., and co-founder and Senior Associate Nick Plugis, Ph.D., a team of entrepreneurial scientists leveraged cutting-edge, fit-for-purpose data and novel machine learning algorithms to reveal that individual cells have diverse, connected, and fluid behaviors that drive health and disease. By understanding the molecular networks that govern these behaviors, we can rapidly design new medicines to control them. This new paradigm shifts the frame of reference for discovering therapeutics from a single target protein or pathway to one that is simultaneously molecular, cellular, phenotypic, organismal, and clinical.

“To fulfill the Flagship Pioneering vision for Cellarity, we’ve brought together a stellar interdisciplinary team of experts in therapeutics development, network biology, AI, and technology,” says Dr. Kahvejian. “At Cellarity, we have leveraged our novel approach and vantage point to create a powerful, generalizable platform for therapeutics discovery—one that integrates cell and network biology from human and animal samples, and tissue culture systems, and allows for clearer translatability. The potential impact on human health is already clear as we apply our platform to a range of disease indications.”

The Cellarity leadership team includes:

  • Cristina Rondinone, Ph.D., President and member of the Board of Directors—Dr. Rondinone joins Cellarity from MedImmune-AstraZeneca, where she was Senior Vice President, Head of Cardiovascular, Renal, and Metabolic Diseases, and a member of the company’s leadership team. She built the therapeutic area and led cross-functional teams responsible for the strategy, growth, and advancement of the portfolio, including research, translational medicine, and development. Prior to MedImmune, Dr. Rondinone held leadership positions in metabolic and cardiovascular diseases at Hoffmann-La Roche and Abbott Laboratories.
  • Milind Kamkolkar, Chief Digital & Data Officer—Mr. Kamkolkar comes to Cellarity from Sanofi, where he also was chief data officer. While there, he led the Joint Enterprise Data Initiative (JEDI), the backbone of Sanofi’s digital strategy. Mr. Kamkolkar has also served as Global Head of Data Science, Digital Medicines, for Novartis.
  • Chad Nusbaum, Ph.D., Chief Technology Officer—Dr. Nusbaum has deep expertise in developing, applying, and deploying new technology to enable world-class research. Prior to Cellarity, he founded and led the Broad Technology Labs, a central development resource for the Broad Institute; was Co-Director of the Genome Sequencing and Analysis Program; and was responsible for the finishing of five human chromosomes in the Human Genome Project.
Re-architecting Therapeutic Discovery

The Cellarity platform integrates the company’s physical laboratory and its digital twin, the Cellarium. The Cellarium maps biological connections to AI-generated cell behavior screening to rapidly identify and explore new therapeutic hypotheses. This information is captured in Cellarity Maps—digital guides that allow for cross-species, cross-disease, and cross-therapeutic interpretation of cell behavior biology. Cellarity has demonstrated that these computationally derived hypotheses can alter disease states in animal models and is preparing to move multiple programs to the clinic.

Dr. Rondinone says, “I’m delighted to join a team that has taken as its mission tackling one of the most fundamental questions in therapeutics discovery today—namely, how can we discover and develop effective medicines more predictably and rapidly. Cellarity’s generalizable approach allows us to tackle a broad range of disease areas, with multiple ongoing and promising avenues of investigation.”

Mr. Kamkolkar says, “Cellarity is the first therapeutics company taking a deliberate approach to leveraging AI as part of a non-hierarchical and interdisciplinary approach to drug development, rather than classically trying to apply new technologies to existing processes and siloed data sets. This approach gives Cellarity a view on questions that have until now seemed intractable. Our progress in under a year is remarkable.”

Dr. Nusbaum says, “By simultaneously leveraging technology, machine learning, and biology, Cellarity is creating a new approach to therapeutics discovery. Perturbing cells, generating a range of data describing their behavior, and then analyzing the data with novel machine learning algorithms allows us to accurately predict interventions to control cell behaviors. I’m delighted to be working with a team that has collaborated to identify a large number of lead candidates in less than a year.”

The Cellarity Board of Directors includes Co-Founder Noubar Afeyan, Ph.D., Founder and CEO of Flagship Pioneering; Avak Kahvejian, Ph.D.; Cristina Rondinone, Ph.D.; Carl Decicco, Ph.D., Chief Scientific Officer, Foghorn Therapeutics, Inc.; Marcello Damiani, Chief Digital and Operational Excellence Officer, Moderna Therapeutics; and James J. Collins, Ph.D., Academic Co-Founder and Termeer Professor of Bioengineering in the Department of Biological Engineering and Institute for Medical Engineering & Science, MIT.

About Cellarity

Founded by Flagship Pioneering, Cellarity is the first company developing medicines through an understanding of cell behaviors. The company’s broad platform harnesses single-cell technologies and machine learning to digitize and quantify cellular behaviors, unravel the network dynamics that govern those behaviors, and generate medicines that can direct them. Cellarity is using its platform to design medicines targeting the full cellular and molecular complexity of disease, enabling a quantum leap in the success rate and speed of drug discovery. For additional information, visit www.Cellarity.com.

About Flagship Pioneering

Flagship Pioneering conceives, creates, resources, and develops first-in-category life sciences companies to transform human health and sustainability. Since its launch in 2000, the firm has applied a unique hypothesis-driven innovation process to originate and foster more than 100 scientific ventures, resulting in over $30 billion in aggregate value. To date, Flagship is backed by more than $3.3 billion of aggregate capital commitments, of which over $1.9 billion has been deployed toward the founding and growth of its pioneering companies alongside more than $10 billion of follow-on investments from other institutions. The current Flagship ecosystem comprises 39 transformative companies, including Axcella Health (NASDAQ: AXLA), Denali Therapeutics (NASDAQ: DNLI), Evelo Biosciences (NASDAQ: EVLO), Foghorn Therapeutics, Indigo Agriculture, Kaleido Biosciences (NASDAQ: KLDO), Moderna (NASDAQ: MRNA), Rubius Therapeutics (NASDAQ: RUBY), Seres Therapeutics (NASDAQ: MCRB), and Syros Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: SYRS). To learn more about Flagship Pioneering, please visit our website: www.FlagshipPioneering.com.

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