What if simple small molecules could enable our body to regenerate and heal itself?
Our story begins in the labs of Robert Langer, Sc.D., and Jeff Karp, Ph.D., at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard Medical School. They asked the question, “Can we achieve disease modifying benefits with a simple small molecule approach?” The idea revolved around taking cues from regenerative biology, and then applying carefully selected small molecules that can target relevant pathways to directly heal cells and tissues in place within the body. The process is intended to activate those cells in a way that allows the body to heal itself.
The search started by looking to nature. Certain species can regenerate and heal specific cells and tissues, whereas that capability remains biologically elusive to humans and other mammals. For example, some amphibians can regrow limbs and amphibians and birds can regrow hair cells in the inner ear if they’ve been damaged. Mammals have underlying progenitor cells in the inner ear with the potential to become hair cells, but their regenerative capacity is dormant after development.
Knowing that natural cellular regeneration was possible in other species, our founders looked for similar molecular pathways by studying areas of active regeneration in the human body. The epithelium in the gastrointestinal tract regenerates itself approximately every five days. Some of the epithelial stem cells are marked by a specific receptor called Lgr5. Lgr5 is a member of the Wnt signaling pathway and plays an instrumental role in the development of certain stem cells into fully differentiated cells. It turns out that these epithelial cells, a special type of Lgr5+ progenitor cell, are also found in the inner ear, skin, eye and in the pancreas. However, there was something special that causes these cells to regenerate in the GI tract and not in other areas. Langer, Karp and Yin, along with other members of the Karp Lab, made a seminal discovery when they successfully activated the proliferation and then differentiation of Lgr5+ cells in the lab with cocktails of small molecule drugs.
Frequency Therapeutics was founded in 2015 to translate the breakthrough work of our founders into new treatments, where controlled tissue regeneration with locally delivered drugs could have profound therapeutic potential.