Follow Me on Pinterest

Monday, June 23, 2008

Drug Companies Ready for Cell Therapies?

Ok I won't title every blog in the form of a questions but this one seems a fitting follow-up to my last blog re: VCs.

Today Pfizer announced an investment in an early-stage (pre-clinical) cell therapy company. Forbes' commetary on the deal begins: "Big drug companies have largely stayed away from testing exotic stem-cell treatments. But now Pfizer is betting that a radical new adult stem-cell treatment may be able to stave off diabetes-induced retina damage, a leading cause of blindness. In an unusual deal, the big drug maker is funding the creation of a biotech company in San Diego called EyeCyte, which will develop stem-cell treatments for eye diseases." (click here for full Forbes article).

The press release states "The financing will fund the company into 2010 [the target date for phase I] and will be primarily used to drive product development of the companys initial clinical target, diabetic retinopathy."

Friedlander and El-Kalay have a fascinating technology and it looks very promising in mouse models. It is, I believe, now being tested in primates. The approach is unique in that it encourages vascularization in a disease states often marked by overvascularization on the premise (borne out in very nice pre-clinical data) that using a highly purified progenitor cell population isolated from the patient’s own bone marrow using proprietary reagents and processes then injected to support healthy vascularization, prevents ineffective vascular proliferation.

In a conference this spring they also spoke of their efforts in looking at not only their scientific methodology but also already working on scale-up (bioreactor me-thinks?) technologies and closed production systems. This is uncharacteristically forward thinking (and admirable) for a company in early development stage.

There have been some encouraging signs recently regarding Pharma's involvement (or potential involvement) in the field.

As Langreth alludes in the Forbes article, J&J is indeed more involved than any other pharma peer. In fact, by my account they are by far the largest cell therapy company in the world if you add up their diverse projects around the globe. They have wisely diversified their investments to internal and external, therapuetic and tools, early and later-stage companies.

There were some, of late, who even presiently opined (or at least wondered aloud) about Pfizer's potential interest in cell therapy (see fellow-blogger J. Rowley's Dec 2007 post at given the creation of a new Bioinnovation Center "to focus on discovering and developing new medicines". Then in April Pfizer announced the creation of Pfizer Regenerative Medicine "a new research unit focused on stem cells and modulators of regenerative processes".

For the most part, pharma's interest in the sector to-date has been largely focused on the use of stem cells for discovery or testing. Understandable.

Pfizer's investment is modest: $3 million - with rights of first refusal to buy it outright. Hopefully with Pfizer on the board, the team finds a way to ensure that the fact EyeCyte can now leverage Pfizer's "prowess" is a positive influence on prudent development rather than a drag on momentum.

This is an encouraging notch on the bed post of cell therapy. Particularly autologous cell therapy at a time when many are - rather prematurely in my opinion - writing autologous therapies off in favor of allogeneic models. The venture might be a one-off and it might fail, but to me, this is just another small checkmark in the 'reasons-to-be-positive-about-cell-therapy-going-forward' column.

Stay tuned...

No comments: