boston biotechA team of influential venture capitalists and medical researchers with strong ties to Boston’s biotechnology community is putting cash and top-drawer talent into the new wave of stem cell technology.

IPierian Inc., a South San Francisco company formed with the merger of two venture-backed startups, will focus on manipulating mature stem cells into ones with embryonic-like qualities that can be used to treat neurodegenerative problems like Lou Gehrig’s disease.

The new company is backed by a fresh round of $10 million from Boston-based MPM Capital and $1.5 million from FinTech Capital Partners.

IZumi Bio Inc. — supported by $20 million from Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and LExington, Mass.-based Highland Capital Partners — and Pierian Inc. announced the merger on the eve of this week’s International Stem Cell meeting in Barcelona.

Pierian was founded by MPM Capital managing directors Ashley Dombkowski and Robert Millman as well as Harvard University scientists.

IPierian — the new company — will be lead by iZumi CEO John Walker, with former Pfizer Inc. executive Corey Goodman as chairman.

IPierian will focus on so-called induced pluripotent stem cells for patients with difficult-to-treat neurodegenerative diseases, like Parkinson’s disease, spinal muscular atrophy and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig’s disease. Longer term, the company will explore metabolic diseases, cardiovascular diseases and other therapeutic areas.

“Disease-specific pluripotent stem cells are powerful new tools for drug screening and promise to revolutionize the treatment of intractable conditions,” said Dr. George Daley, who along with fellow Harvard faculty members Douglas Melton and Lee Rubin were the scientific founders of Pierian.

IPierian’s scientific advisory board will be led by Daley, director of stem cell transplantation at Children’s Hospital Boston and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, and Dr. Deepak Srivastava, director of the Gladstone Institute of Cardiovascular Disease in San Francisco.

IPierian’s management includes Walker, chief technology officer Dr. Berta Strulovici, and Dr. Dushyant Pathak, who will lead business development.

IZumi, formed last year by Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and Highland Capital Partners, has collaborations with the Gladstone Institutes and the Center for iPS Cell Research and Application at Japan’s Kyoto University, where Dr. Shinya Yamanaka first succeeded in reprogramming adult cells in a mouse to become like embryonic-like.

Yamanaka also works part time at the Gladstone Institutes and UCSF.

Embryonic stem cells are the gold standard of stem cell research because they are pluripotent, capable of developing into heart, muscle, skin or other cells.

Induced pluripotent cells, like those created by Yamanaka, are seen by many as a way to sidestep ethical and political issues associated with extracting stem cells from embryos, but others say they can cause cancer in mice if any of the genes used to reprogram the cells remain active.

Souce: Boston Business Journal