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Friday, December 19, 2008

Cell Therapy Industry HiLites 2008-12-19

Ok so it's almost not Friday anymore even by my Pacific Time Zone but I promised to try to do this every Friday and so here I am. I will not be doing a HiLites next Friday however. I'm taking a break for the holidays.

For the week before Christmas this was one busy week!

I'll start this week's HiLites with a bit of a focus on Bioheart, Inc. (Nasdaq:BHRT). The company has been busy this week reinventing itself - just how much remains to be seen. As followers of the industry will recall, Bioheart had a disappointing IPO earlier in the year but was able to raise ~$1.8M in a private placement in October. This, I suspect, is not much more than survival money as they are financing a 330-patient phase II/III trial in US and Europe.

So the company's announcement this week came as no surprise that it intends intends o spin out or sell off its interest in several non-core technology platforms including:
- Biopace -- A biological pacemaker.
- MyoValve -- A cell seeding method for repairing and building biological heart valves.
- EndoCell -- A system for bedside preparation of adipose tissue for delivery of endothelial progenitor cells to the adventitia of coronary arteries for prevention of restenosis following
balloon angioplasty, stenting or atherectomy.
- AortaCel -- Cell compositions and delivery systems for repairing aortic aneurysms or for reinforcing the neck area in aortas repaired with an endovascular stent graft.

In addition, Bioheart is seeking a strategic partner for the development of its bi-ventricular pacemaker technology, called MyoStim, which utilizes a patented electrical stimulation software program and an additional pacemaker lead to enhance cell transplantation.

Understandably Bioheart is doing this in order to intensify its strategic focus on the treatment of patients suffering from heart failure. Interestingly, however, in their press release Bioheart made no mention of their cell therapy saying rather that Company is strategically focused on commercializing patented technologies for reducing and repairing heart muscle damage caused by heart attacks as well as marketing advanced heart failure monitoring devices including the Bioheart 3370 Heart Failure Monitor and the Bioheart-Monebo CardioBelt(tm) ECG Acquisition Device.

Then yesterday Bioheart announced it had had signed a deal with Life Technologies Corporation (Nasdaq:LIFE) (the new combined Invitrogen-Applied Biosystems entity) which provided Life the global distribution to Bioheart's myoblast cell-based research products to life science researchers. The deal is intended to "expand the number of therapeutic applications under development with this type of cell" but again no mention of Bioheart's own trial or product.

All of which leads to at least a couple questions we hope Bioheart will soon answer. Firstly, is the company positioning itself away from its lead product MyoCell®? Secondly, the deal with Life Technologies was described as a "distribution and OEM agreeement" but while there was discussion about the distribution aspects of the deal, there was no description of the OEM part. Given that neither company has any notable capacity or expertise in producing clinical-grade cells will this only encompass research-grade cells or are there other plans here not being discussed?

I'll move on to other news of the week.

In a move that will certainly enhance his legacy on his way out the door, Alan Lewis announced that Novocell, Inc. has entered into a non-exclusive drug discovery collaboration with Pfizer which gives Pfizer access to Novocell’s proprietary pancreatic progenitor cells derived from human embryonic stem (hES) cells. This appears to be an open-platform type of agreement (limited for now to 2 years). Novocell will receive an upfront payment, research funding, additional amounts payable upon the achievement of certain technical milestones, and payments relating to the sale by Pfizer of any exclusive therapeutic discovered as a result of the collaboration.

Novocell has shown it can coax human embryonic stem cells to become fully functioning pancreatic beta cells that secrete insulin in mice but about 15 percent of the animals got teratomas, a type of tumor. This, the company will have to learn to prevent or at least control before it gets approval to go to human clinical trials. For now, as Xconomy's Luke Timmerman says, "Novocell can take some comfort knowing that some of the deepest pockets in the pharmaceutical industry are shelling out at least a little spare change to help it crack daunting challenges like that."

BioLife Solutions Inc. (OTCBB: BLFS) announced that it has completed an initial series of small animal safety studies. The studies evaluated injections of HypoThermosol, CryoStor, or control phosphate buffered saline (PBS) into healthy rodents. The study was designed to mimic human clinical applications where stem cells isolated from cord or peripheral blood are re-suspended in a carrier solution and administered intravenously to treat patients suffering from a variety of diseases and disorders including leukemia, anemia, lymphoma, myeloma, and other cancers.
The results of these studies demonstrate- the Company claims - that infusion of HypoThermosol and CryoStor present no safety risk within the parameters of this two-stage evaluation in a rodent model. Data to be published and/or presented soon.

Avita Medical Ltd (ASX: AVH) says the French Ministry of Health is funding a 200 patient medico-economics study on the impact of Recell on burn wound healing. Avita said that the first patients were enrolled and had been treated in the study which was part of a French program “to advance the implementation of innovative technologies”. Avita said the primary goal was to demonstrate the medical effectiveness and economic benefits of the Recell technology to the hospital and health care system in the treatment of burns and wounds.

Recell, already commercially available in Australia, is a single-use medical device for harvesting autologous skin cells. Developed as an 'off the shelf' kit, ReCell enables a thin split thickness biopsy, taken at the time of procedure, to be processed into an immediate cell population for delivery onto the wound surface. Once processed, the cell suspension is available for immediate use and can cover a wound up to 80 times the area of the donor biopsy. ReCell enables the delivery of keratinocytes, melanocytes, fibroblasts and Langerhans cells harvested from the epidermal-dermal junction for application onto a wound surface in order to promote effective wound healing.

Pluristem Therapeutics Inc. (NasdaqCM:PSTI) (DAX:PJT) filed a European Investigational Medicinal Product Dossier (IMPD) to begin clinical trials of its placental-derived adherent stromal cell product, PLX - PAD, an allogeneic cell therapy, for critical limb ischemia. The company filed the IMPD application with the Paul Ehrlich Institute (PEI), the German competent authority in the European Union (EU). An IMPD is a harmonized procedure for the authorization to perform a clinical study in any one of the EU Member States. An IMPD is requested whenever the performance of a clinical study in any one of the EU Member States is intended, and it is similar to an Investigational New Drug (IND) Application that would be filed for the performance of a clinical study in the United States. Assuming approval of the IMPD by this authority, Pluristem said it plans to initiate the dose ranging clinical trial during the second quarter of 2009 at two sites in Berlin, Germany

Amgen lobbied this week for personalized medicine by presenting to the FDA the argument that one of its drugs should be used by just a subgroup of patients with colorectal cancer who appear to be most likely to benefit from it.

NeuralStem filed an IND to use its neural stem cell technology in a trial for Lou Gehrig’s disease in what it described as the first ALS trial using stem cells.

Progenitor Cell Therapy has brought in a new CFO with over 21 years of experience in the life sciences industry and fundraising. This will undoubtedly help them raise the funds needed for their continued US and European expansion plans.

StemCells, Inc (NASDAQ: STEM), which already has a trial underway for Batten disease, just received FDA approval to start a trial for Pelizaeus-Merzbacher Disease (PMD), also fatal brain disorder that affects mainly young children. The mechanism of the potential Batten disease therapy is to establish healthy neural cells that can help a patient’s own cells clear out some toxic garbage that builds up in the disease, the mechanism for PMD is to boost myelinization of neurons. StemCells uses cells originally derived from fetal tissue.

Although this news will be old to some I discovered this week Arteriocyte's announcement from November 10 that it had been awarded the DARPA Blood Pharming award to the tune of $1,950,000 which presumably it has to share with collaborators at Johns Hopkins University, The Ohio State University and INSERM, Paris. While this seems like a sizeably juicy award, the US Military's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has issued a tall order. DARPA wants a self-contained device small enough (≤47 ft3) to go into the military field and create at least 100 units of universal blood (i.e., can be transfused into anyone regardless of blood type) per week for eight weeks. The key ingredient to Arteriocyte's proposal and the company's Nanofiber Based System (NANEX) technology is umbilical cord blood stem cells.

While technically not a cell therapy play, both these players are notable enough in the cell-as-tools sector that we thought it worth noting that VistaGen Therapeutics has signed a deal with Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF) to license WARF's human embryonic stem cell patents for the development and commercialization of stem cell-based research tools.

Winning this week's award for the press release with no news, is the annoucement from Advanced Cell Technology, Inc.(Other OTC: ACTC.PK) that "its technology platform, which utilizes a single cell biopsy that does not destroy the embryo, is well positioned to receive Federal funding under the new administration led by President-Elect Barrack Obama."

They made up for it the next day, however, by releasing news of new funding. Demonstrating, once again, their tenacious survivability, ACT announced it had licensed a "non-core technology" to one of its creditors, Ireland-based Transition Holdings, Inc, for $2.5 million - comprised of the extinguishment of $1.5 million of debt and an additional funding commitment of $1 million. The Company expects to apply the proceeds it receives in the future towards its retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) cells program.

Cytori has now launched a a 30-person clinical trial using adipose (fat) stem cells for chronic radiation induced injury.

Life Technologies announced its CIRM award will be used to develop human stem cell models of neurodegenerative diseases to advance drug development. The company intends to use human embryonic stem cells to develop new models of Lou Gehrig's Disease and other neurodegenerative diseases.

Inno Bio Diagnostics Sdn Bhd (IBD), which specialises in cell-based diagnostics and regenerative medicine, is investing RM4.58 million (~$1.3M) to set up a cell therapy centre at the Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia Medical Centre (UKMMC) in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. IBD, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Inno Bio Ventures Sdn Bhd, aims to create and develop business opportunities in stem cell technology in the area of cell-based diagnostics and therapy. The cell therapy centre, which is expected to start operations next year, will be jointly managed by IBD and UKMMC to develop human hepatocyte-like cells from stem cells that are derived from embryonic, bone marrow, mesenchymal and adipose tissues. The human hepatocyte-like cells can be used for in vitro assays for screening and testing potential drugs for the pharmaceutical and nutraceutical industries. According to Ahmad Zaharudin, the company is projecting a revenue of RM15 million to be generated from the product, knowledge transfer and licensing of technology as outcome of the partnership.

Genzyme Corporation announced that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has granted marketing approval for Mozobil(TM) (plerixafor injection), a drug intended to be used in combination with granulocyte-colony stimulating factor (G-CSF) to mobilize hematopoietic stem cells to the bloodstream for collection and subsequent autologous transplantation in patients with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma (NHL) and multiple myeloma (MM). The product has also been granted orphan drug designation. Genzyme has submitted an application in Europe for approval of Mozobil and expects approval of the product in the second half of 2009. Genzyme recently filed applications in Australia and Brazil, and additional global applications in up to 60 countries are planned. Mozobil has received orphan drug designation in Mexico which allows the product to be commercialized in the country upon U.S. approval. Genzyme believes that Mozobil may have broad application outside the current indication. Early preclinical and clinical investigations are already underway to explore additional therapeutic indications for Mozobil, including mobilization of hematopoietic stem cells in allogeneic stem cell transplants and tumor sensitization in oncology/hematology treatments such as adult myeloid leukemia.

And finally... it looks like there's a showdown shaping up in Colorado. As disucssed previously on this blog, in July FDA CBER's Mary Malarkey sent a warning letter to Dr. Christopher J. Centeno, Medical Director of Regenerative Sciences, Inc (RSI), doing business as Regenexx. On a recent visit to the Regenexx website, we see that they state the following:

"The Food & Drug Administration's (FDA) role is to regulate the sale and distribution of drugs, devices, biologics and combination products, but not how these products are used by physicians. The FDA does not approve surgical procedures. RSI conducts all surgical procedures within the State of Colorado. There are no interstate aspects to the procedures conducted by RSI that invoke FDA jurisdiction under the Public Health Service Act (PHSA), which requires an interstate nexus. Our surgical procedure involve the use of autologous stem cell therapies (ACTs) consisting of products or treatments incorporating the in vivo use of a patient's own stem cells, following, in certain circumstances, ex vivo manipulation or processing, for the prevention, or treatment of disease. The surgical procedures conducted by RSI including surgery and bone marrow transplants are not performed as part of any research intended for FDA approval of a product that is under the jurisdiction of the FDA. Therefore, the stem cell procedures conducted by RSI are not under the jurisdiction of the FDA. Rather, the procedures conducted by RSI are considered the "practice of medicine," and is left up to individual surgeons' judgment and experience and oversight by the Colorado Board of Medicine." [emphasis added]

And that ends the way I saw the cell therapy industry this week.... More HiLites to come in 2009! Happy holidays to one and all.



Frog said...

It will be interesting to see how the Regenexx strategy works out. It is certainly a bold move, but not a lot different than early pioneers of cord blood transplant took.

It's refreshing to see someone make a stand against the FDA's growing power to regulate medical research. Just glad it's not me!

Debt Help Blog said...

well this industry is really booming.

Lee Buckler said...

Errata Statement re: Regenexx

It has been pointed out to me by legal counsel that the 25 July 2008 letter from the FDA to Regenerative Sciences, Inc regarding what FDA observed as apparent "violations" of FDA regulation by Regenexx, was not a "Warning Letter" as that term is officially defined but rather an "Untitled Letter" which has less or no formal effect.

My previous reference to the letter as a "warning letter" was a colloquial rather than legal use of the term. In any event, to avoid possible confusion, I hereby formally point out that the letter was not a "Warning Letter".

Despite the FDA's observations of what it then said appeared to them as Regenexx "violations" of FDA regulation in that Untitled Letter, since the date of the letter the FDA has not followed up with any Warning Letter, Cease and Desist Letter, or sought any other relief in court either in an action of its own or in the action brought against the FDA by Regenerative Sciences, Inc.

This fact has emboldened many to believe that the FDA will not take any action to remove Regenexx from the market despite its observations in 2008 that Regenexx appeared to violate the existing FDA regulatory framework.

Some take this one step further and believe that by its lack of action the FDA has demonstrated it now believes the product does not, in fact, violate the regulations. Others are convinced the FDA's lack of action is merely a lack of action and not a change of conviction. In the face of a lawsuit by RSI, after all, the FDA has to pick its battles carefully.

Only time will tell...