From Building Blocks to BlueRock
BlueRock Therapeutics receives historic investment to advance stem cell research.
UHN Research Report

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Therapies are being developed by BlueRock that involve coaxing stem cells into becoming specialized heart muscle cells, which are reintroduced into damaged hearts to restore function.

Toronto’s stem cell and regenerative medicine ecosystem gained a major player with the establishment of a new biotechnology company, BlueRock Therapeutics, in December 2016. The company, co-founded by world-renowned UHN researchers, Drs. Gordon Keller and Michael Laflamme, will advance novel stem cell-based treatments for a variety of diseases, such as cardiovascular disease and Parkinson disease, in a state-of-the-art 10,000 square foot facility.

One of the first innovations that will be developed by the company is an approach to regenerate and repair damaged heart muscles, co-created by the two UHN researchers. Drs. Keller and Laflamme developed a way to coax stem cells into becoming specialized heart muscle cells called cardiomyocytes. These cells, when introduced into the heart, act like building blocks—incorporating into the heart tissue and making the heart stronger by repairing muscle damage caused by heart attacks or abnormal heart rhythms.

“We’ve had a lot of research breakthroughs in the past several years and with BlueRock we can now move them from the laboratory to the clinic to help patients,” said Dr. Laflamme during the launch event, which was attended by federal and provincial ministers and the Premier of Ontario.

BlueRock builds upon Toronto’s excellence in stem cell research."

BlueRock was made possible by Bayer AG and Versant Ventures, who provided US$225 million in seed funding. The funds, which represent one of the largest biotechnology investments in history, will be used to build and support research and development facilities in Toronto, New York and Boston. The Toronto facility will employ up to 70 scientists and technical staff when fully functional.

Sparked by the discovery of stem cells at UHN more than 50 years ago, the local stem cell research community is home to leading centres such as UHN’s McEwen Centre for Regenerative Medicine and the Centre for Commercialization of Regenerative Medicine. BlueRock now joins this vibrant cluster of excellence in regenerative medicine, reinforcing Toronto’s world-class reputation in the field.

“The concentration of stem cell research resources and expertise that we have is unparalleled,” says Dr. Keller, who is also the Director of the McEwen Centre. “Establishing BlueRock Therapeutics is a visionary move that will lead to new therapies for currently untreatable diseases.”

(L-R) Dr. Gordon Keller and Dr. Michael Laflamme.
UHN’s Technology Development and Commercialization Office worked closely with all partners to negotiate and execute the license agreements for the foundational intellectual property, as well a master research agreement to fund future work.