Here's what caught my attention this week:
Celgene received FDA clearance to proceed with its placenta-derived stem cell clinical ttudy - a phase I, multi-center trial for moderate-to-severe Crohn's disease.
MiscroIslet filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection but expects to restructure as a private company, continue operations, and file its first IND by year's end for an encapsulated porcine-islet product to treat diabetes.
Celladon released promising phase I results for the first gene therapy trial for advanced heart failure.
Cytori is starts to sell some of its StemSource® cell banking systems for collecting, processing, and storing adipose-derived cells. The company received its first order from Asian distributor Green Hospital Supply. The cell bank is to be set up in Japan. Despite all the continued skepticism about the value of cell banking to the donor-potential-patient, cell banking businesses are popping up prolifically around the world on the promise of short-term revenue to fund long-term R&D while providing a service some believe to be of irreplaceable value.
Although technically not a company-related cell therapy story, one of the more interesting developments this week was the announcement out of Charite in Berlin that they have a patient who is AIDS-free following a unique stem cell transplant. The patient developed leukemia which the docs were going to treat with a stem cell transplant. But rather than do the routine transplant by finding a match and treating just his leukemia they dared to be a little different. They went looking for a donor that matched and also had a CCR5-gene mutation (a naturally-occurring mutation which makes life difficult for the HIV virus according to some studies). The Berlin team found 80 compatible bone marrow donors for their patient, an unusually high sum, two of whom had the CCR5-Gene mutation. One of these they used with surprising and heartening results. What I like about this story almost as much as the happy ending and exciting discovery is how the doctors are trying to control the hype around this single-patient data and early results. It's not likely that this kind of transplant is a future treatmtent (for reasons related to supply, demand, and other commercial realities) but perhaps there is a kernal of a cell therapy product here somewhere that someone as innovative as these doctors will develop in time.
Ok I'm late on the draw here but it just came to my attention that in August NovaRx initiated a pivotal phase III in lung cancer patients. Watch on this blog in the coming days for more on the perception-vs-reality gap related to the number of industry-sponsored cell and gene therapy trials currently active worldwide.
Introgen may disappear while on the brink of success. Despite have an MAA being reviewed in the EU for their gene therapy for head and neck cancer, their BLA submission for the same therapy was rejected by the FDA as incomplete (currently under appeal). The company is now "exploring options" after a troubled Q3.
While not for its cell therapy program, Athersys announced it had achieved a clinical development milestone in its Bristol-Myers Squibb alliance. The amount of the milestone payment has not yet been revealed but any revenue is good revenue to offset the cell therapy development burn.
Bucking recent trends, StemCells Inc. (STEM) announced it will raise $20M in a stock sale to select institutional investors. Good news for any company in these times. Even better news for the cell therapy sector!
Finally, in the most over-reported news of the day, Pfizer opens up a regenerative medicine shop. I agree this is big news. This is not a minor investment; it's not throwing some money at a portfolio of biotechs in hopes that something will stick; it's not using stem cells as tools for drug testing or discovery. This is evidence of a belief by those in the halls of some of the tallest towers in life sciences, that cell therapies are going to change the way we treat people. Here are a couple quotes:
“Pfizer Regenerative Medicine represents a great opportunity to focus world-class research in a field that holds considerable promise for biomedical science and for the treatment of many debilitating conditions such as diabetes and neurodegenerative disorders.” said Rod MacKenzie, PhD, head of Worldwide Research at Pfizer.
The unit will be led by Chief Scientific Officer, Ruth McKernan, PhD, who said “I’m very excited to lead this new research unit. While there is still a lot to understand about how stem cells can be used therapeutically, we believe it is one of the most promising areas of scientific research.”
Ok, one more. Corey Goodman, PhD, President of Pfizer’s Biotherapeutics and Bioinnovation Center, said, “The formation of this new unit represents another key step forward in Pfizer’s commitment to be at the forefront of new approaches in biotherapeutics and bioinnovation and to expand our research efforts and expertise into emerging areas of biomedical science, like regenerative medicine, that have great potential for human health.”
Apparently the unit will operate independently (in the fashion of smaller biotechs) with about 70 researchers when fully staffed - in both Cambridge, UK and Cambridge, Mass - and work collaboratively with "leading academic, biotech and pharmaceutical partners around the world.
That's the cell therapy industry as I saw it this week. Happy weekend.