An Ottawa biotech startup that’s caught the eye of leading North American investors for its technology that can regrow spinal cord tissue and other body parts says it’s aiming to start human trials next year after raising millions of dollars in fresh capital.
Spiderwort – which is developing a process of regrowing body parts using plant-based materials – said Tuesday it’s closed a US$13.2-million series-A round led by Horizons Ventures, a Hong Kong-based venture capital fund that has previously invested in Facebook and Shopify and led Spiderwort’s seed round two years ago.
The latest raise brings the firm’s total funding haul to more than US$15 million as it seeks to continue its pioneering research. The new round included participation from K5 Global, BoxOne Ventures and Break Off Capital.
“We have the financing that we need to accelerate our product development and achieve all our goals,” Spiderwort co-founder and CEO Dr. Charles Cuerrier told Techopia on Tuesday. “It’s extremely motivating. The team spirit is really strong.”
Founded in 2015, Spiderwort sprouted from co-founder Dr. Andrew Pelling’s lab at the University of Ottawa, where students experiment in “biohacking” exercises that include carving apples into the shape of an ear and growing human tissue on them.
The company was part of Invest Ottawa’s accelerator program and in 2019 became the first tenant at La Cité’s state-of-the-art research facility.
Over the years, it has attracted the attention of some big-name local financial backers, including Mark Zekulin, the former chief executive of cannabis powerhouse Canopy Growth, MindBridge founder Solon Angel and Assent CEO Andrew Waitman, who called Spiderwort’s approach to regrowing limbs “life-changing.”
Horizons Ventures investor Patrick Zhang echoed that enthusiasm on Tuesday, saying the Ottawa biotech venture is conducting “truly transformational” research.
“We are encouraged by the boundless potential of its products,” Zhang said in a news release.
Spiderwort is working on two different but interrelated products – CelluBridge, a proprietary cellulose-based material that helps repair and regenerate spinal cord tissue; and CelluJuve, a cellulose-based substance that serves as a “scaffold” to help regenerate soft human tissue in other parts of the body for injury repair or cosmetic purposes.
CelluBridge was designated a “breakthrough device” by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in late 2020 – special status that aims to speed up the FDA’s assessment and review process in a bid to fast-track approvals and get products to market quicker.
Pelling said lab results have been “very encouraging” as the company ramps up its efforts to eventually commercialize the products. The firm has doubled its headcount to 22 employees in the past eight months in anticipation of more funding.
“Spiderwort was founded on asking big questions and taking big risks, and that work is now paying off,” Pelling said in a statement. “We’re looking forward to moving our innovations to the clinic and improving the quality of life of people around the world.”
"It’s complicated when you think this is something that will be implanted in humans. We still have a lot to do, but we are aiming for next year."
Cuerrier said the latest cash infusion should carry Spiderwort through the next three years as it looks to graduate from testing the products on animals to launching clinical trials in humans – a groundbreaking step the firm expects to take before 2023 is out.
“It’s complicated when you think this is something that will be implanted in humans,” Cuerrier explained. “We still have a lot to do, but we are aiming for next year.”
He said it’s way too early to predict when CelluBridge and CelluJuve will hit the market, noting it will likely be “many years” before the products get the green light from regulators such as Health Canada and the FDA.
Still, Cuerrier said he’s encouraged by the company’s progress so far, adding he’s confident that its efforts will yield treatments that will improve the quality of life for patients suffering from catastrophic spinal cord injuries as well as a host of other issues.
“It’s not only being able to walk, it’s also being able to have bladder control, blood pressure control, things like that,” he said. “We strongly believe that our product can be the solution to those problems.”