Ottawa's Spiderwort closes US$2.5M seed round to fuel biomaterial research

Charles Cuerrier
Spiderwort co-founder and CEO Charles Cuerrier. File photo

An Ottawa biotech startup that believes its research could revolutionize the treatment of spinal cord injuries has closed a US$2.5-million funding round backed by a group of heavyweight local and international investors.

Spiderwort, which works to regrow body parts such as spinal cord tissue using plant-based materials rather than synthetic products, said Wednesday it had closed its seed round. The company, helmed by Dr. Charles Cuerrier, has its roots in Dr. Andrew Pelling’s lab at the University of Ottawa, where students experiment in “biohacking.”

The fledgling firm, which last fall moved most of its staff to a state-of-the-art research facility and business accelerator at La Cité, has attracted major attention with its groundbreaking scientific efforts. The startup was previously part of Invest Ottawa’s accelerator program at Bayview Yards.

The company’s new seed round is led by Horizons Ventures, a Hong Kong-based VC that has previously invested in Facebook and Spotify. Other investors include the Capital Angel Network, Break Off Capital, Anges Québec and a U.S. syndicate.  

Last year, Assent Compliance CEO Andrew Waitman, another early investor in the startup, called Spiderwort’s approach to regrowing limbs “life-changing.” 

On Wednesday, Cuerrier said the eight-person company will use the new funding to continue its pioneering work, adding Spiderwort expects to more than double its headcount over the next year as it accelerates clinical testing on animals and prepares to launch human trials. 

“We believe that our biomaterial has the potential to significantly change lives and fundamentally transform multiple industries,” he said in a statement. “We have a lot of hard work ahead, but we are confident that the results will speak for themselves.” 

Cuerrier told OBJ the company has no definitive timeline for when it hopes to start clinical trials on humans. He said the startup is still years away from gaining regulatory approval that will allow the treatments to go to market.

Life sciences companies generally must raise significant funding to finance the years of clinical trials needed to certify technologies and processes as safe for commercial use in the tightly regulated health-care field. 

Ottawa-based cancer-fighting startup Turnstone Biologics, for example, has raised more than $50 million in recent years to sustain its operations, while other local biotech firms such as Spartan Bioscience are also seeking millions of dollars in funding for their products.

Also Wednesday, Spiderwort said Dane Bedward, the former president of Genzyme Canada and an executive fellow at Mistral Venture Partners, has been named chairman of its board of directors. Horizons Ventures investor Patrick Zhang has also joined the board.