An American startup that wants to develop a permanent treatment for type 1 diabetes just raised $114 million to fund their stem cell-driven cure.

By utilizing the immense potential of stem cells, Semma Therapeutics’ research revolves around having them perform like key cells that manage blood sugar levels in our bodies. The endgame is to treat – and permanently cure – type 1 diabetes.

The $114 million, combined with the $49 million they previously raised, will be put towards getting Semma’s treatment, which have been tested on animals, to human trials.


Diabetes is an autoimmune disease in which the body doesn’t breakdown sugar in the blood correctly. The body confuses beta cells found in the pancreas, which are supposed to produce insulin, and attacks them, affecting how the body absorbs & processes sugar.

Today, there are roughly 30 million Americans living with a form of diabetes; 1.25 million of that total suffers from type 1 diabetes.

Theoretically, treating type 1 diabetes is straightforward: if the beta cells are replaced in the body, the body could start producing insulin again, thereby regulating blood sugar levels.

Of course, that’s easier said than done. Type 1 diabetes patients have relied on insulin injections to manage blood sugar, which requires constant monitoring and maintenance. Companies have even started developing devices like an ‘artificial pancreas’ to deliver insulin mechanically, rather than manually.


Semma’s solution takes stem cell research & therapy to the next level, by going into a patient’s body and replacing the lost beta cells the body’s destroyed. The theory is based on the work of Doug Melton at the Harvard Stem Cell Institute, and the scientific founder of Semma. The name of the company actually comes from Melton’s kids, Sam and Emma, who both have type 1 diabetes.

Semma’s type 1 diabetes treatment would look something like this:

  • The stem cell treatment would rely on ready-to-inject beta cells that’ve been created from embryonic stem cells. An embryonic stem cell’s ability to differentiate into any cell type in the body is essential.
  • The stem cells, taken at their embryonic stage, are exposed to growth factors that converts them into beta cells.
  • The new beta cells are inserted into an implant, about the size of Band-Aid, and placed under the patient’s skin. This would keep the cells centralized in the device, and away from the immune system, which would attack the beta cells if exposed.
  • From the implant, the engineered stem cells would produce insulin for the body, which would help with controlling blood sugar levels.


In addition to type 1 diabetes treatment, this stem cell research could extend to other areas of regenerative medicine and injection therapy.

“We look at it as a cell therapy opportunity,” says Todd Foley, managing director at MPM Capital, which helped found Semma.

Stem cell therapies like Semma’s startup have been gaining more popularity; in August, the FDA approved the first cell therapy that’s being used to treat cancer.

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