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Semma Therapeutics raises $114m for novel diabetes treatment

Semma Therapeutics wants to develop a treatment for diabetes that would eliminate the need for insulin injections.
Guido Krzikowski/Bloomberg News
Semma Therapeutics wants to develop a treatment for diabetes that would eliminate the need for insulin injections.

A Cambridge biotech seeking to develop a treatment for diabetes that would eliminate the need for insulin injections has attracted $114 million in venture capital in a second round of fund-raising.

Semma Therapeutics said early Thursday that it collected the money from big-name investors who helped generate $44 million in the first fund-raising effort, in 2015, including Boston’s MPM Capital, and several new investors.

Semma’s partners include Novartis AG — which has its global research headquarters in Cambridge — and Medtronic, the medical devices company.

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Founded three years ago, Semma wants to market a treatment based on research from the lab of noted Harvard University stem cell scientist Douglas Melton, the company’s founder. It uses stem cells from embryos to create insulin-secreting pancreatic “beta cells” that would be transplanted into patients, enabling them to produce insulin without the need for multiple daily injections or a pump.

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The treatment has worked in laboratory mice and rats, and Semma plans to seek approval from the Food and Drug Administration to begin clinical tests in humans, although company officials declined to say when.

“I’m very optimistic,” Dr. Mark C. Fishman, Semma’s board chairman, said of prospects for the treatment working in humans. “I’m not blindly optimistic. We have to go from a small animal to a big animal, but we think that kind of scaling is possible. If anything is going to work in regenerative medicine now, this is what I’m betting on.”

Treatment of type 1 diabetes hasn’t changed much for decades. People with the disease rely on an insulin pump or multiple daily injections to maintain safe blood sugar levels. Insulin injections are not a cure, however, and diabetics often struggle to manage their condition and avoid serious complications, including kidney failure, blindness, and nerve damage.

Jonathan Saltzman can be reached at jsaltzman@globe.com