Stem cell collection company Anja Health raises $4.5M

Steven Loeb · May 10, 2022 · Short URL:

Cells collected from the umbilical cord and placenta can help fight diabetes, cancer, and HIV

The blood that flows through the placenta and umbilical cord has a high concentration of stem cells, which can, in turn, be used in the treatment diseases, including cancer, blood disorders, and metabolic diseases. For example, they have been used to reverse type 1 diabetes and in February of this year, the third person ever was cured of HIV by using cord blood stem cells.

Yet, the cord and placenta are typically discarded as medical waste after birth, despite the option to preserve them in what is known as cord blood banking, a process that, despite being around for 20 years, too few still know about, said Kathryn Cross, founder and CEO of Anja Health, the first stem cell safe, which provides new mothers with the option of freezing their stem cells so they can be used for future treatment options. This week, the company announced a $4.5 million seed round of funding.

"For the most part, people haven't heard of it; only about 2% of parents are currently doing this in the US but people are beginning to learn more about it," Cross explained.

"My mission is to just make sure that people have informed birth choices and, even if they decide not to bank, at least they can have the chance to know about it."

Launched in October, expectant parents who sign up for an Anja kit receive it prior to giving birth; after, the baby's umbilical cord is clamped and cut, and stored in the kit by a nurse or a physician, which takes roughly 10 minutes in total. The company asks that parents call within about six hours after birth for a biological goods courier to pick up the kit, who will arrive within about 12 after that. The kit will be delivered to Anja's lab in New Jersey within 72 hours or less, no matter where it it coming from within the US.  

Customers pay a monthly fee to keep their stem cells in Anja's facility; the price depends on what is being stored: storing only umbilical cord blood is $35; umbilical cord blood and umbilical cord tissue is $65;  umbilical cord blood, umbilical cord tissue, and placenta is $85 per month. Patients pay for eight years, and then then they get 12 years after that for free. On top of that, they also pay  an upfront kit fee of $199.  

The cord blood, cord tissue, and placenta stem cells are stored in a liquid nitrogen, and each preservation tank can hold about 10,000 units.

"We literally have rooms full of these units; each tank is only around three feet wide, and maybe four feet tall, so you can have like many, many, many units. Even if we banked literally every single baby in America, then maybe that it would take us a year to fill up the entire facility. So, there's no plans to very immediately expand geographically, but perhaps in the future," Cross explained.

The company's new funding round was led by Alexis Ohanian's Seven Seven Six, with participation from Harvest Ventures and Crista Galli Ventures, as well as athletes and executives including Cleo Abram, Chris Ovitz, Balaji Srinivisan, Zachariah Reitano, and Tim Lenardo. Anja's total funding now stands at $5.4 million. 

The company will use the money to build out its executive team, and to get the word out to more parents to be through word of mouth; that will include growing its social media presence, which currently includes around 110,000 followers on Cross' TikTok.

"A big thing is just making sure that people feel confident in their birth decisions, and they feel informed at all times. So, making informed birth choices is a huge thing for us. Even if people that I speak with choose not to bank, at least I feel like they've gotten the information that they need. Across the board, we just want to ensure that people can feel confident," she said.

"A lot of people feel like they don't have solid resources that they can turn to that are credible. So, we really want to make sure that people feel like they can make a confident decision and they feel equipped with proper information."

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