Semma acquired by Vertex Pharmaceuticals for $950 million – September 3, 2019

Vertex currently focused in cystic fibrosis; Semma’s technology includes approach for generating beta cells from stem cells + encapsulation and immune protection strategy for potential type 1 cure

Semma Therapeutics announced today that it will be acquired by Boston-based Vertex Pharmaceuticals for $950 million in cash. This is a big acquisition for Vertex, which currently has a distinct focus in cystic fibrosis, and it represents the company’s first foray into the type 1 diabetes landscape.

As a reminder, Semma was created by and based on the foundational work of Dr. Doug Melton, whose Harvard lab published a key paper in Cell in 2014 detailing a new process for generating large quantities of insulin-producing beta cells. Semma looked to commercialize this approach and also worked toward an encapsulated beta cell therapy that does not require chronic immunosuppression. Semma’s late 2016 partnership with Defymed brought the latter’s MailPan “bioartificial pancreas” (semi-permeable encapsulation system) into the equation. In 2017, Semma closed $114 million in Series B financing to propel proof-of-concept studies.

Semma’s technology is currently pre-clinical, but the company was planning on initiating its first clinical trial in patients with “difficult to treat diabetes” and hypoglycemia unawareness in 1H20, following positive pre-clinical data announced in July 2019. A second clinical trial for the broader type 1 adult population was set to begin in 2H20 using the immunoprotective device without immunosuppression. It’s currently unclear how Vertex’s acquisition might impact these timelines.

See below for a full run-down of our coverage of Semma over the years. For our full type 1 cure landscape, see here.

Close Concerns Coverage of Semma Therapeutics



July 2019

Semma Therapeutics announces positive pre-clinical data for stem cell islet infusion and immunoprotective device

May 2019

Semma Therapeutics’ Nature publication demonstrates improvements in production of stem-cell derived beta cells

May 2018

Semma appoints Dr. Bastiano Sanna as new CEO 

December 2017

Semma raises $114 million in Series B financing; Funding will support proof-of-concept for stem cell-derived islet encapsulation program

March 2017

JDRF T1D Fund invests in Semma Therapeutics’ stem cell-derived insulin-producing beta cells

January 2017

Harvard’s Dr. Doug Melton retracts betatrophin hypothesis

December 2016

Defymed and Dr. Doug Melton’s Semma Therapeutics combine efforts toward beta cell encapsulation system

April 2015

Melton group announces $44 million financing round, partnerships with Novartis and AZ related to stem cell protocol for diabetes


--by Martin Kurian and Kelly Close