New Encapsulation Approach Attracts Big Pharma Investment

Yesterday, a widely published press release announced a new partnership between Eli Lilly and Sigilon Therapeutics, a private biopharmaceutical company working on a unique cell encapsulation approach. The encapsulation therapy has the potential, as it develops, to become a Practical Cure for T1D. Sigilon’s approach includes both a solution for cell supply— sourced from stem cells— and cell protection.

In licensing the technology, Eli Lilly provides Sigilon capital and resources to move the project into human trials and towards market approval with speed and urgency. This partnership is noteworthy because it is one of the rare instances when a major pharmaceutical company has made a meaningful investment in encapsulation technology. It is also a signal to the marketplace that encapsulation therapies could be a profitable business platform which should attract further commercial interest to the encapsulation field—a great thing for the T1D community.

Sigilon Therapeutics Background

Sigilon launched and began developing its Living Therapeutics encapsulated cell therapies using its Afibromer technology in 2017 with $23.5 million in capital. The encapsulationAfibromer product was developed by co-founders and MIT researchers, Daniel Anderson and Robert Langer. Both men have spent a significant portion of their MIT careers researching and developing biomaterials. Sigilon was established to move this research into translational solutions for chronic disease— specifically T1D.

Sigilon’s Encapsulation Approach

In the past, many encapsulation devices have run into the same problem; fibrosis or scarring around the encapsulation device as the body’s immune system recognizes the device as foreign and attacks it. Sigilon’s encapsulation therapy is working to address this problem specifically. Sigilon coats each of its encapsulation “beads” with its Afibromertechnology— a unique combination of algae-derived biomaterials. Early animal testing (mice and primates) has been promising, as results have shown no scarring and the encapsulated beads have remained “pristine,” according to Sigilon.

Each bead is designed to house either stem cells capable of developing into fully-functioning insulin-producing cells or fully-formed islet cells. The Afibromer coating Sigilon applies to each of these beads allows cells within the device to release insulin through the coating and into the body while also protecting the encapsulation beads from being recognized by the immune system as foreign objects.

In addition, Sigilon is also developing a proprietary cell supply line. It is also possible that Lilly may partner with other companies who are working on cell supply, such as Semma Therapeutics, but that is unclear at this point.

Eli Lilly and Sigilon Deal Structure

The key elements of the Lilly collaboration include an upfront payment of $63 million dollars with the possibility of an additional $410 million tied to development and commercialization milestones. In return, Lilly is receiving an exclusive license to Sigilon’s Afibromertechnology.

Sigilon Therapeutics Website: