Taking the Throne of Stem Cell Innovation

8 Jul

Dr. Yong Zhao

Interview with Dr. Yong Zhao, Founder and CEO of Throne Biotechnologies


By Rory McCann, Marketing Manager & Conference Producer, LSN

Dr. Yong Zhao is the Founder and CEO of Throne Biotechnologies, an early-stage company innovating stem cell therapies for diabetes and autoimmune diseases. Dr. Zhao was a winner in the Digital RESI June Innovator’s Pitch Challenge, and we connected to share more about Throne Biotechnologies and what their early-stage journey has been like.

Rory McCann (RM): Hi Yong, congratulations on being selected as an Innovator’s Pitch Challenge winner at Digital RESI June. Tell us a little about yourself and Throne Biotechnologies.

Dr. Yong Zhao (YZ): Thank you very much. I am grateful for the support from Life Science Nation.

Thirty years ago, I was a practicing physician. On my first day, a patient’s wife came to my office, tearfully begging me to cure her husband as he was dying of an autoimmune disease. Of course, there were no cures. Within weeks, he sadly passed away. That event made a lasting mark on me and I walked away from my practice two years later determined to find a cure for autoimmune diseases.

First, I obtained my PhD specializing in immunology then my post-doc at the University of Chicago. As a research scientist at the University of Illinois at Chicago, I first discovered and patented a brand new type of stem cell capable of immune modulation from human umbilical cord blood — the CB-SC. This discovery led to the development of our patented technology, Stem Cell Educator Therapy (Educator Therapy). This treatment is a one-time dialysis-like stem cell treatment that fundamentally re-educates the immune cells and corrects the immune dysfunction found in diabetes and autoimmune diseases. Throne Biotechnologies was established to commercialize this technology.

Fast forward to today and Throne is recognized worldwide as having the leading practical cure technology in treating type 1 diabetes. We have over ten years of clinical data with over 200 patients in the United States, Spain, and China. We have treated more than 10 distinct autoimmune diseases with Educator Therapy. Our findings have been published in 16 peer-reviewed journals and articles. Additionally, we have a portfolio of 7 patents.

The FDA has approved Throne to begin three phase II clinical trials treating type 1 diabetes, alopecia areata, and severe COVID-19 patients with Educator Therapy. We are currently looking to raise $5M series A to complete these clinical trials and reach additional FDA approval.

RM: What is the need in the marketplace you’re filling and how have you found a solution to that need?

YZ: There are no cures in the marketplace. Insulin therapy for type 1 diabetes and immunosuppressants for autoimmune diseases like alopecia areata are only temporary solutions, not cures. This significant unmet medical need calls for a sustainable solution to reverse autoimmunity and bring hope to patients.

Throne’s Stem Cell Educator Therapy brings a sustainable solution to autoimmune diseases by correcting the underlying autoimmunity and inflammation. Through this one-time, extracorporeal procedure, a patient’s dysfunctional immune cells are reprogrammed by our CB-SC stem cells. This process works for multiple indications and has been demonstrated to be safe (3-70 years old) and effective (70% of type 1 and type 2 diabetic patients).

RM: How did you go about building your team? What considerations did you take into account when developing the people behind Throne Biotechnologies?

YZ: The people behind Throne Biotechnologies can be summarized in three words — experience, commitment, and value. We want individuals who have expertise in the field and can therefore effectively marry that experience with the ability to push forward. As I previously mentioned, this industry is not for the faint-hearted and Throne requires a culture of commitment. We need individuals who are committed to our cause. Most of our team has been with us for many years, with some serving for close to a decade. This quality is what we highly value because it is a “family effort”. Our team is fully committed to the success of Educator Therapy. Lastly, we consider character and vision. We want to work with individuals who prioritize the success of this technology for the benefit of the patient as the primary stakeholder. In this way, our team maintains a patient-centered focus throughout our work.

RM: What have been some of the biggest hurdles you’ve faced with early-stage fundraising? How have you tackled some of these challenges?

YZ: Fundraising comes down to trust. This field is very competitive and constantly evolving. When I first discovered the CB-SC stem cell and developed Educator Therapy, the field of immune modulation was relatively new. Fast forward to today and the field is primed with possibilities and revelatory ideas, which is just wonderful. However, as a small biotechnology company, the biggest fundraising hurdle that we have faced here at Throne has been tied to having an expansive internal management team.

While Educator Therapy has developed global credibility as being safe and effective through over ten years of clinical research among over 200 patients, it has been very difficult for us to connect with the right investors who can inject the capital, expertise, and vision to disrupt the industry. Smaller companies like Throne can be perceived as greater risks to investors because we don’t have the management teams that larger life science companies have.

The way we have tackled this fundraising challenge is simply through perseverance. Whether it is building our own GMP lab or doing molecular mechanism studies, I have dedicated my life to seeing Educator Therapy get to market because I know how it will change the lives of patients globally. While the fundraising process has been longer and more strained at times, we have maintained a position of hopeful confidence here at Throne to connect with the right investors.

RM: What’s next for Throne Biotechnologies? Where do you see the company in 1 year? 5 years? 10?

YZ: Currently, we are determined to complete the last phases of our clinical trials and reach conditional approval within 2 years. We aim to begin commercial treatments and scale across the US while simultaneously scaling across other international territories, such as Asia, Europe, and the Middle East, through our existing global partners immediately upon US FDA approval.

RM: Thank you for your time, and good luck!

We are thrilled to be a part of Throne’s journey and wish all the best for Dr. Zhao and his team. Are you interested in joining the next Innovator’s Pitch Challenge? Join RESI Partnering Week, September 13-17 and apply for a chance to pitch to a panel of active investors who are relevant for your product and stage of development. Sign up by July 9 to save!

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