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20 February, 2019 - 06:39 By Tony Quested

Arm meets Harry Potter as Disley conjures new magic

A Cambridge company that has mastered the Holy Grail of direct cell conversion has unveiled Darrin Disley as CEO, clinched almost $4 million seed funding after a second close and cornered markets worth billions with an IP-centric business model echoing Cambridge technology great Arm.

Cell Mogrify, soon to morph into Mogrify, can convert any mature cell type into any other mature cell type without going through a pluripotent stem cell – or even a progenitor cell-state. 

While Mogrify’s solution is proven science it might help lay people better understand the principle of transmogrification by thinking of the transfiguration capabilities of Minerva McGonagall in Harry Potter who switches between different human forms and even a cat!

A year to the day since he left as CEO of gene editing world leader Horizon Discovery, Dr Disley picked up the wand to help Mogrify conjure some mind-boggling personalised medicines magic.

The funding round was led by existing backer Ahren Innovation Capital with 24Haymarket and Dr Disley also investing. Mogrify will use the cash to market novel IP and cell types generated using its proprietary direct cellular conversion platform, which will power the development and manufacture of lifesaving cell therapies across all therapeutic areas. 

Dr Disley says the technology is powerful enough to “carpet-bomb” all these therapeutic areas.

Mogrify builds on a 10-year investment by its co-founders in the development of a systematic big data-science approach powered by next-generation sequencing and gene-regulatory data to identify the optimal combination of transcription factors (in vitro) or small molecules (in vivo), needed to convert any mature cell type into any other mature cell type without going through a pluripotent stem cell- or even a progenitor cell-state. 

The company is applying this approach to address the issues of efficacy, safety and scalability currently associated with cell therapy development and manufacturing, which is estimated to represent a $30 billion market opportunity and is rapidly growing (CAGR +30 per cent).

Also, through its internal development and partnership programmes, Mogrify is positioned to directly address growing markets that are unserved by approved cell therapies – such as cardiac repair and cartilage regeneration end-user markets – estimated to be worth $120bn and $7bn by 2022 and 2025, respectively.  

Mogrify’s leadership team is of significant commercial and scientific calibre. The company was founded by leading academics in bioinformatics, Professor Julian Gough (LMB, Cambridge, UK), cell reprogramming, Professor Jose Polo (Monash University, Melbourne, AU), and machine learning, Assistant Professor Owen Rackham (Duke-NUS, Singapore), and is chaired by Professor Steve Jackson – Frederick James Quick Professor of Biology (University of Cambridge), head of CRUK Laboratories (Gurdon Institute), founder of KuDOS Pharmaceuticals, co-inventor of Olaparib (Lynparza®), founder of Mission Therapeutics and co-founder of Ahren.

Dr Disley is a renowned scientist, entrepreneur, angel investor and enterprise champion who has started, grown or invested in over 40 startup life science, technology and social enterprises, raising $500m in business financing and closing $600m in commercial deals.

He was CEO of Horizon Discovery Group plc for 11 years, during which he led the company from startup through a $113m IPO and rapid scale-up powered by multiple acquisitions of US peer companies to become a global market leader in gene editing and gene modulation technologies.

He was appointed OBE for his services to business and enterprise in the healthcare sector and picked up the accolade from Prince William at a ceremony at Buckingham Palace last week.


Crowning glory: Dr Disley at the Palace with his OBE

Dr Disley, said: “Direct reprograming between mature human cell types is a holy grail of regenerative medicine and pharmaceutical applications. We will commercialise the Mogrify cellular trans-differentiation platform via IP licensing, product development, internal and partnered drug development.

“I am thrilled to be working with a world-class multi-disciplinary founding team and a lead investor with founders of rarely matched scientific pedigree, as we rapidly expand to address the global cell therapy opportunity.”

Alice Newcombe-Ellis, founder and managing partner, Ahren Innovation Capital, added: “Mogrify’s team has a strong track record of success, and their cutting-edge approach to direct cellular conversion has the potential to disrupt cell therapy, placing the company in a unique position to address a large market opportunity. This is an exciting time for Mogrify.”

On leaving Horizon, Dr Disley embarked on a year-long series of adventures around the world that would have left Indiana Jones and Phileas Fogg dizzy.

Rejuvenated, reinvigorated and fitter than he has ever been, Dr Disley told me in an exclusive interview that he felt Mogrify’s IP-centric business model could have a similar impact on next generation cell therapies as Arm’s superchip licensing approach had achieved across cutting edge technology devices. He said: “Ours is a hub and spoke IP centric business model – a similar model to the one that enabled Arm to be so dominant globally for so long in the world of hi-tech devices and, going forward, in IoT.

“Arm was clever: It didn’t set out to build devices - it chose to design the chips that drive them all. Mogrify’s IP will broadly cover and enable market sectors where the cell lies at the heart of value creation.

“With the model we have chosen everyone is our customer. We don’t have to make the tools, therapies and manufacturing processes that drive the healthcare revolution; customers right across the chain can use our IP to make the products, provide the services and create the processes that will power their businesses.”

“The concept of how you Mogrify a cell really is a Holy Grail for generating cells whose phenotype is precisely tailored to the end application. In our model, we generate and control new composition of matter IP.

“The currency of our success is the development of new and market relevant IP – we are not chasing short-term revenue which would be be a barrier to the creation of real value.

“Using Mogrify researchers can create target cells (e.g, lung, prostate, cartilage) with desired properties that may enhance efficacy, safety and manufacturability from more readily available cells, such as skin, meaning the generation of almost any target cell is tractable. 

“On speaking with investors and potential customers it is clear they readily understand the power of the Mogrify value proposition and the huge leap forward it could make in transforming how cell therapies are developed. 

“In recent times solid state single molecule DNA sequencing developed by Sir Shankar Balasubrumanian and Professor David Klemnerman (Solexa/Illumina) and the expression of therapeutic monoclonal antibodies developed by 2018 Nobel Laureate Sir Greg Winter (CAT/MedImmune) were the most fundamental breakthroughs in understanding the genetic drivers of disease and the development of novel biotherapeutics that have lifesaving outcomes.

“I am very pleased that the lead institutional investor was Ahren Innovation Capital – a new venture fund founded by Alice Newcombe-Ellis and amongst other great scientists Sir Shankar, Sir Greg and our chairman Professor Steve Jackson who know what it is like to bring transformative technology platforms to market.


Professor Steve Jackson

“Whilst there is a long way to go, the Mogrify approach could dramatically accelerate the quest for new cell therapies which are currently limited by the lack of available sources of cells with suitable efficacy, safety and manufacturing profiles.

“Stem cell approaches are in vogue right now but I believe they are fundamentally limited and will in time be seen as a directional technology that showed the way in cell conversion. The future is direct cell trans-differentiation and I hope to lead Mogrify in this mission to transform the generation of lifesaving  cell therapies.” 

Mogrify is looking for an additional 10,000 sq ft of lab and office space at the heart of the Cambridge cluster and is set to hire fast and big, including senior positions.


Dr Darrin Disley

Action man Disley fit for the fight to revolutionise future of cell therapy

Darrin Disley has covered a lot of territory since leaving as CEO of Horizon Discovery a year ago to the day. He returns as CEO of Mogrify fitter, leaner and wiser having visited all seven continents on the map in a dizzy 12-month adventure.

His globetrotting took in 27 countries, taking his lifetime log to 104 different nations, as well as touring 14 more US states – that makes 47 of the 50. He cites as “life-changing” an autumn 2018 trip to the Antarctic region, Tierra Del Fuego, Patagonia, the Andes and the Amazon. 

Dr Disley logged 400 miles trekking up mountains and down ravines, across glaciers and camped out in temperatures ranging from -5 to -20C.

After a long November diving trip to far islands off Galapagos, December saw a journey to the Rocky Mountains for skiing before jetting home for a family Christmas and then off again to Italy via Venice, Florence and Rome. 

Other highlights included travel in the mountains of the Pacific Southwest while an annual pilgrimage to Mexico and Bali with some friends including young entrepreneurs, bookended the year and an African safari in Northwest Kruger, South Africa still awaits. 

Ahead of being unveiled as Mogrify CEO, Dr Disley managed to fit in a spell of snowboarding in the Rockies!

He recalls the first major deal he negotiated for Horizon – with Novartis – when he was flat on his back through the excruciating pain of a long-term spinal injury.

A fanatical fitness regime has fixed the spinal injury and put the energetic entrepreneur in the shape of his life.

He tells me: “I have lost 57lbs in weight, reducing from 225lbs to 168lbs, shrunk my waist from 38 inches to 30, slashed my body fat from 36 per cent to 10 per cent via a combination of sensible, healthy eating and a three-four hour daily gym regimen that burns 4-5,000 calories out whilst only 2,500 good calories go in. My global adventures proved a real test of my new health and fitness.

“This last 12 months have been a transformative year in my life which demonstrated that with discipline and focus I can maintain a future that balances world travel, extreme physical activity and entrepreneurship – the latter only based on world-class science capable of delivering global commercial success and impact on the issues I care about i.e. patient outcomes, education and social mobility. 

“The physical transformation has been startling and I would recommend other entrepreneurs operating at the cutting edge not to take their health for granted. Taking a period off to reflect and recharge is not the worst thing they could do before going again.”

To prove the point, Dr Disley has not only taken on the Mogrify challenge but also become chairman of a clinical stage cell therapy company built on the science of a UK-based Nobel Laureate with hopes of having a marketed cell therapy by 2021. This venture and the proposed roadmap to success will be announced in March. 

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