With New Licensing Agreement, Harvard Hopes to Improve Cancer Treatment

Hoping to improve the stem cell transplant process and broaden access to some cancer treatments, Harvard has granted the Cambridge-based technological startup Magenta Therapeutics access to a suite of technologies partly patented by the University.

David T. Scadden, chair of the Department of Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology and a professor at Harvard Medical School, has led the Harvard Stem Cell Institute in researching ways to use stem cells in medical care. Magenta Therapeutics was created to commercialize this research, according to Vivian Berlin, director of business development and life sciences at Harvard’s Office of Technology Development, which oversaw the license agreement with Magenta. Scadden is the chair of Magenta’s scientific advisory board.

“When we think about commercializing technology we think whether they would fit within the current paradigm of existing companies or whether it would make more sense to form a company around the technology,” said Berlin. “David really felt, and we agreed with him, that the best route for further developing the technology would be through the formation of the startup.”

The patents—owned by Harvard, Massachusetts General Hospital, and Boston Children’s Hospital—will help Magenta offer a suite of technologies in stem cell transplantation, which is used in the treatment of some types of cancers, according to Berlin.

Stem cell transplants are a multi-stage process, involving the harvesting, expanding, and grafting of the cells. The technologies, partly stemming from Scadden’s research, aim to make each stage of the process less toxic and more effective. Traditional treatments, such as chemotherapy, generally do damage to the body. The new therapies use antibodies to target cancer cells in hopes of making the treatment non-toxic.

“These are technologies that really are game-changing, paradigm-shifting,” Berlin said.

Founded by stem cell experts, Magenta Therapeutics recieved $48.5 million in seed capital from investors and currently consists of 20 employees. Christina Isaacson, Magenta’s vice president and head of business development, said they hope to double this number next year.

“We have a really rock solid team,” said Isaacson. “We’re really excited.”

Scadden said the application of his research to real-life health outcomes is heartening.

“To be able to advance a laboratory finding toward clinical application is a dream as a physician-scientist,” he said. “It is such a privilege to work at Harvard where this is accepted, encouraged, and made possible by the ecosystem in which we operate.”