Vertex Acquires Semma Therapeutics for $950M to Develop Treatments for Type 1 Diabetes

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By : dLife Editors

Vertex Pharmaceuticals announced earlier this week that it will acquire Semma Therapeutics, a privately held biotechnology company working on a curative treatment for Type 1 diabetes for $950 million in cash.

Semma, pioneering the use of stem cell-derived human islets, has demonstrated a differentiated approach to treat Type 1 diabetes, which affects over one million people in the United States alone.

The company has made two major scientific advances: the ability to produce large quantities of functional human pancreatic beta cells that restore insulin secretion and ameliorate hypoglycemia in animal models and a novel device that encapsulates and protects these cells from the immune system, enabling durable implantation without the need for ongoing immunosuppressive therapy.

“We are excited to work with the talented scientists at Semma to build on their significant progress toward providing effective and potentially curative cell therapy options for people living with Type 1 diabetes,” said Dr. Jeffrey Leiden, chairman, president, and chief executive officer of Vertex in a statement.

“We see a substantial opportunity to transform the treatment paradigm for Type 1 diabetes, a specialty disease cared for by endocrinologists, both by advancing the development and manufacturing of the cells themselves, as well as through the highly innovative cell/device combination,” he added.

Dr. David Altshuler, executive vice president, the global research and chief scientific officer of Vertex added that the therapeutic approach pioneered by Semma has the potential to address the causal human biology of Type 1 diabetes, a serious disease inadequately controlled by existing therapies.

“Unlike insulin injections and insulin pumps, islet cell transplantation can provide physiologic regulation of blood glucose thereby potentially ameliorating or preventing both the hyperglycemic and hypoglycemic episodes associated with the current standards of care,” Altshuler said. “Their compelling proof-of-concept data in animals demonstrates the opportunity to develop transformative and potentially curative therapies to treat people with Type 1 diabetes.”

Semma was founded by Dr. Douglas Melton, and others to develop transformative therapies for patients who currently depend on insulin injections.

The company is focused on advancing Melton’s method of generating billions of functional, insulin-producing beta cells grown from stem cells in the laboratory, which develop in islet-like clusters.

Initial preclinical work in animal models of diabetes has shown that transplantation of these cells by infusion into the liver is sufficient to control blood glucose levels.

This breakthrough technology has been exclusively licensed to Semma for the development of cell-based therapy for diabetes.

“Semma was founded to dramatically improve the lives of patients with Type 1 diabetes,” said Melton. “Vertex is ideally suited to accelerate the achievement of this goal.”


  1. Vertex Pharmaceuticals Incorporated. (2019, September 3). Vertex to Acquire Semma Therapeutics With a Goal of Developing Curative Cell-Based Treatments for Type 1 Diabetes. Business Wire. Retrieved September 5, 2019 from