Fate Therapeutics Charts Destiny to World-Leading Stem Cell Company

Fate Therapeutics is a three-year-old life sciences start-up with fewer than 50 employees, but it has already won high-profile attention. Earlier this year MIT’s Technology Review cited Fate as one of the 50 most innovative companies in the world—alongside Apple, GlaxoSmithKline, and Tesla Motors—for its promising approach to stem cell therapy. And Fate was conceived at UW.

Unlike companies that work with embryonic stem cells, Fate Therapeutics uses a protein-based technology to reprogram mature adult cells, from the skin for example, to proliferate and become pluripotent—meaning they can become any cell in the body. Compared to embryonic stem cells, Fate’s induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) hold promise as a safer and less expensive source for stem cell production.

Scientists could use tissues created from iPSCs to test experimental drugs for benefits and adverse reactions. Initial applications include screening for drugs that could activate a patient’s own stem cells to treat blood cancers and metabolic and degenerative disorders. In the future, iPSCs also might be used to generate replacements for damaged tissues.

UW Is Catalyst for High-Powered Consortium

The prime catalytic spark for Fate was Randall T. Moon, professor of pharmacology and director of the University of Washington’s Institute for Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine and Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) Investigator. With encouragement and initial investment from ARCH Venture Partners and guidance from the UW Center for Commercialization (C4C), Moon co-founded Fate, based in San Diego, with a consortium of world leaders in stem cell biology based at Harvard, MIT, Stanford, Scripps Research Institute, and other leading institutions. All serve on Fate’s Scientific Advisory Board.

“With the expertise of the co-founders, plus $35 million in venture funding from a consortium of investors, Fate hit the ground running,” Moon said. “We wanted to get stem cell therapies into clinical use far faster than possible with traditional approaches, which would take 10 to 15 years to materialize. We knew there had to be a better way.”

Among Fate’s first products is small-molecule drug designed to boost proliferation of hematopoietic stem cells (HSC), which give rise to all red and white blood cells and platelets. Leukemia patients who lack a good tissue-type match for stem cell transplantation from donor blood may receive donated umbilical cord blood, which has a richer concentration of HSC. A cord provides a small amount of blood, however, so Fate researchers hope their drug, now in early-phase clinical trials in Boston, will further boost the HSC count and increase the effectiveness of umbilical cord blood transfusions.

UW C4C Helps a New Entrepreneur Blast Off

Moon’s UW research team studies specific protein signaling pathways that help regulate the behavior and proliferation of cells in vertebrates and their linkages to disease processes, with a goal to develop therapeutics. Over the course of 15 years, staff at the UW Center for Commercialization (C4C) have helped Moon file 21 US and foreign patent applications, 15 of which are now licensed to Fate Therapeutics. In particular, Moon credits UW C4C technology managers Angela Loihl and Valerie Carricaburu for their encouragement and assistance with both intellectual property and issues around launching an enterprise.

We’re proud we could help Dr. Moon commercialize his research,” Carricaburu said. “We believe that Fate Therapeutics is just the beginning, and that Dr. Moon and his colleagues at the UW Institute for Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine will continue to play an important role in revolutionizing stem cell therapies.”

“Co-founding a company and becoming an entrepreneur has been the biggest blast,” Moon said. “Compared to the often slow pace of academic research, it’s been great to come up with a game plan and then execute it.”

Moon and his Fate co-founders are, well, shooting for the moon. “Our goal is to be the leading stem cell company in the world, and to transform treatment of incurable diseases,” he said. “There is no reason we can’t do it.”