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Friday, July 3, 2009

Cell Therapy Industry HiLites 2009-07-03

Last week I mentioned the Regenerative Medicine Foundation and the conference they have announced for Spring 2010. I promised to find out more and bring you what I learned.

I've discovered that the driver behind the RMF is Anthony Atala and Case Western. It is a 501(c)(3) charity, non-profit organization. It was formed in 2005 by Dr. Atala to host a meeting with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) around the topic of regenerative medicine. In 2006, the Foundation was instrumental in the formation of STRAC, the Soldier Treatment and Rengeneration Consortium, a national partnership of leading military and academic research centers and industry. STRAC formed the basis for the Armed Forces Institute of Regenerative Medicine (AFIRM).

Now the Foundation announced the first annual "Translational Issues in Regenerative Medicine" Conference, to be held in Winston-Salem, NC, December 8-10. The conference promises to focus on best practices in clinical trials and GMP facilities, as well providing a forum to discuss regulatory and reimbursement challenges. In addition, the conference will feature a venture forum to introduce early-stage and later-stage companies to accredited and institutional investors.

As its name suggests, the organization functions like a "foundation" rather than a member-based organization. This is reinforced by the fact the "Participate" page on the website has no content.

All of this is interesting but nothing more than you would learn from the RMF's website. What I DID discover this week that isn't obvious from anything yet online is that Atala has also been a primary driver behind the creation of a newly announced organization, this one a 501(c)(4) organization intended to be much more about lobbying.

This week the Alliance for Regenerative Medicine was formerly launched. (no website yet). Headquartered in
Washington, DC, the Alliance is "dedicated to promoting regulatory, research, and reimbursement policies that will foster innovation in regenerative medicine" in addition to serving as a "source of information about regenerative medicine for policy makers, the media, and the general public".

With Atala's 'encouragement', Michael Wener of DC law firm Holland & Knight and Morrie Ruffin of Adjuvant Global Advisors signed up to be the driving force in the creation and evelopment of the Alliance intented to bring together academic institutions, non-profit organziations, and companies that commit to supporting and participating in a lobbying organization to promote much-needed policies in support of the regenerative medicine sector.

The organization intends to announce its final list of charter members later this month. Thus far its a respectable list including Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine, Stanford University, the University of Washington, Georgia Tech University, the Genetics Policy Institute, Geron, Johnson & Johnson, Aldagen, iZumi, Fate Therapeutics, Maxcyte, Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield and Byers, and Proteus Ventures.

Werner and Ruffin both have a great deal of experience with Capitol Hill and the biotechnology sector. I had a great conversation with Werner this week and am very encouraged by the plans for the Alliance and their intended inclusiveness. In my opinion, the Alliance promises to fill a much-needed gap unmet by any existing organizations. I will dedicate a post to more information about the Alliance in the days to come.


More stakeholders united in one place at one time than any other.


Surprisingly, the past week or so - here in the beginning of summer with July 4th weekend being most everyone's primary focus in America - was a very big week for closing financing deals in the cell therapy sector.

In this financial environment the ability to raise any money is a marked accomplishment. Nevertheless four companies in this emerging field did just that: a technology company, a service-based one, a company developing a therapeutic, and one that sort of does all three.

Celsense, Inc. announced they recently raised just over $1.76 million in additional funds in their Series B.

The funds will reportedly be used to commence human clinical testing of its lead compound, Cell Sense which is a fluorocarbon tracer agent used to label cells ex vivo without the use of transfection agents. The technology reportedly enables researchers and clinicians to non-invasively track the administration and migration of the labeled and transplanted therapeutic and/or diagnostic cells using 19F MRI or MRS. Applications include tracking cells in immunotherapy or regenerative medicine as well as diagnosis of inflammatory sites by tracking selected populations of immune cells.
NeoStem, Inc. (NYSE Amex: NBS) has also bucked the trend recently by tapping into Asian investors and deal-making. NBS announced that it now has raised additional gross funds of over $4 million from institutional and private investors. These funds, together with the $11 million private placement from three Asia-based investors announced April 13, 2009, bring the total investment obtained by NeoStem in the past two and half months to over $15 million.

The funds are said to be tagged for sundry purposes including support of the company's continuing initiatives with their VSEL (very small embryonic-like) stem cell technology licensed from the University of Louisville, advance NeoStem's expansion activities in China, expand U.S.-based operations, add seasoned management to the NeoStem team with experience in clinical drug development in pharmaceutical and biotechnology industry, fund the administration of overseas based clinical trials, and other general corporate purposes. Suddenly that $15 million doesn't seem like nearly enough for a focus spread that broadly
Neuralstem, Inc. (NYSE Amex:CUR) announced that an investor fund has purchased $1 million worth of stock and purchased $3 million worth of warrants to be exercised in $1 million allotments to be exercised within a year, three years, five years from the date of issuance. Neuralstem plans to use these proceeds for "working capital" much of which - according to SEC-filings - is currently being spent on legal fees.
International Stem Cell Corporation (OTCBB:ISCO) entered into a definitive agreement for a $5 million financing investment commitment (the “Investment”) with a biotechnology-focused fund (the “Investor”) that has offices in New York and California. The Company may draw down funds from the Investor as it finds a need, but is not obligated to do so. Funds will be drawn down through the issuance of redeemable Series E Preferred Stock.
I usually don't track or include reports of grants being received by companies but this one is a good size and - I admit - more importantly I wanted to point you to their unique usage of social media.
Pluristem Therapeutics Inc. (NasdaqCM:PSTI) (DAX:PJT) has been awarded a $1.9 million government grant from the Office of the Chief Scientist (OCS) at the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Labor of Israel, as a government participation in R&D expenses for the period March 2009 to February 2010. The OCS awards grants to industry in Israel to foster technological innovations. This is the fourth consecutive year that Pluristem has received this grant. The funds will be designated and used by Pluristem to support the clinical trials of the allogeneic placental-derived adherent stromal cell product, termed PLX-PAD, for the treatment of critical limb ischemia (CLI), the end-stage of peripheral artery disease (PAD), as well as for other research and development activities of the Company.

Here's the cool part: Check out their product animation on YouTube.


Ok, this isn't exactly a clinical story but it's the closest thing I've got this week and I hate leaving sections bare.

Geron Corporation (Nasdaq: GERN) has published in advance of print in the journal Regenerative Medicine a paper that reports that dendritic cells (DCs) scalably manufactured from human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) exhibit normal functions of naturally occurring human DCs found in the bloodstream. This, they say, supports their planned use of hESC-derived DCs in their therapeutic vaccine currently in Phased II for AML but employing autologous dendritic cells. (see GEN's summary here)


The big deal of the week, of course, was between
GE Healthcare, a unit of General Electric Company (NYSE: GE), and Geron Corporation (Nasdaq: GERN).

The companies announced an agreement to co-develop human embryonic stem cell (hESC)-derived assay products for in vitro drug screening with the aim of having products on the market in by "early 2010".

Under the worldwide, exclusive license and collaboration agreement, GE Healthcare obtained an exclusive license to Geron’s hESC IP and a sublicense under Geron’s rights to foundation hESC patients held by the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation. IP arising from the alliance will be shared between the companies, with GE Healthcare retaining rights to the resulting technologies for drug discovery applications and Geron for cell therapy applications.

When Geron announced that its IND had been accepted by the FDA earlier this year, Okarma made quite a bit about how they had figured out how to scale the production of their product
" unlike adult stem cell therapies" and that their product was "scalable in the same way as a monoclonal antibody".

This theme continues in this announcement with Geron's David Earp saying "
“Geron is intensely focused on developing hESC-based cell therapies, and the expertise that we have developed in scalable manufacturing and differentiation of hESCs to specific cell types is directly applicable to the production of these dells for drug discovery.”

Interestingly, GE claims it is bringing "
expertise in cell manufacturing" to the deal. GE Healthcare will fund the R&D program and will be responsible for manufacturing, sales and distribution of products developed under the agreement.

Click here for more background information
As has been discussed here several times, ever since Cell Genesys Inc (NASDAQ: CEGE) pulled the plug on its late-stage trials of its GVAX immunotherapy triggering Takeda Pharmaceuticals to pull out of its co-development deal for the product, Cell Genesys has been busy dealing with downsizing, lawsuits, and shopping itself around to potential suitors looking primarily to take it on for its cash.

This week BioSante Pharmaceuticals, Inc. (NASDAQ: BPAX) anted up to announce it is merging with Cell Genesys in an all-stock transaction valued at about $38 million - pretty much the exact amount of cash CEGE has in its bank account. the surviving entity will be BioSante.

Cash value is actually a generous purchase price for biotech companies which usually come with a burn rate that makes then worth less than their cash. CEGE, however has no clinical program, had sold most of its assets, and had downsized to 9 staff in a rented office.

There are, of course, persistent rumors of back alley shenanigans that took place in CEGE's demise but we'll leave these on the street. What is interesting to me is that BioSante has suggested they will examine options for the future of Cell Genesys' GVAX Immunotherapies, including potential combination with BioVant, BioSante's vaccine adjuvant, as well as possible external collaborations. The combined entity is also on record saying they will try to outlicense other Cell Genesys technologies.
Pantheon China Acquisition Corp. ("Pantheon") (OTCBB:PCQC) announced that its shareholders approved its plan to purchase China Cord Blood Services Corporation ("CCBS"). Pantheon has changed its name to China Cord Blood Corporation and will continue to trade on the OTCBB under the symbol PCQC until its expected transition to a larger U.S. exchange is complete. Pantheon China Acquisition Corp. is a "special purpose acquisition company" formed for the purpose of acquiring businesses in the People's Republic of China. Pantheon China consummated its initial public offering on December 20, 2006 generating an aggregate gross proceeds of $34,500,000. China Cord Blood Corporation is currently the largest cord blood banking operator in China in terms of geographical coverage and is the only market player with two (i.e., Beijing and Guangdong) out of six exclusive cord blood bank licenses issued by the PRC government authorities to date. Under the current PRC government regulations, only one licensed cord blood bank operator is permitted to operate in each licensed region.
Former CEO, Ed Scott, retired late last year from Lifeblood Biological Services, LLC with a plan to buy it out. Scott has now successfully closed that transaction and has rebranded as Key Biologics, LLC. The beauty here is that the company has a steadily growing book of business since its 2005 insception and Scott bought the assets of LBS for $188,000 on previous 12-month revenues of close to $1.6 million.

Key Biologics is being positioned to service the burgeoning cell therapy market. For insight into just some of the market need the company is poised to address, click here to read an article by Scott, previously published a year ago.

The company produces nearly 300 products for researchers involved in cellular-based therapies. Among other types of products and custom services, Key Biologics provides researchers with products made from human blood collected at its office which it converts into customer-specific products like leukocytes, plasma or T-cells shippint them directly to its customers per their specification.
Living Cell Technologies Limited ASX:LCT; OTCQX:LVCLY) announced that it has now officially opened its new designated pathogen free pig breeding facility in New Zealand to support the imminent launch of its clinical trial in New Zealand of DIABECELL in subjects with type 1 diabes. DIABECELL is an encapsulated porcine insulin-producing cells which can be administered without the need to use immunosuppressive drugs.
GEN this week carries an interesting article on a company applying its existing technology to cell therapy bioprocessing scale-up. The article sites "...large-scale culturing of embryonic and induced pluripotent stem (ES, iPS) cell lines for use in regenerative medicine and drug discovery applications" as still a "major challenge" for the industry. Cyntellect, Inc. reports that its Stem Cell Manager "is a series of stem cell management processes including automated physical passage of stem cells, automated embryoid body generation, and purification of specialized cell types derived from stem cells" which can help alleviate some of the major challenges in large-scale automation of the processes required to manipulate sensitive therapeutic cells.
Bio-Matrix Scientific Group, Inc. (OTCBB:BMSN) announced the launch of a national marketing program aimed at hospitals "in need of storing umbilical cord blood specimens for future transplantation".

The business model is not entirely clear to me but it would appear BMSN believes hospital clients will outsource the processing and storage of cord blood units which parents donate to the hospital-owned public cord blood "bank" (or registry). I'm told BMSN may not have the appropriate license for processing of this sort but I'm sure they will be taking care of that. More importantly, I am keenly aware this hospital-based model for selling back-end cord blood processing and storage to hospitals is a very tough sell and not one that hospitals understand easily. For what it's worth, that didn't stop the from naming the company its “Stock Pick” for the second time since February of this year.

We will watch BMSN's future with interest.
Toronto-based bio-commercialization center, MaRS Innovation, has selected an umbilical cord stem cell technology as its first commercialization opportunity. The technology offers a proprietary method to create multi-potent stem cells (MPSCs) from human umbilical cord blood with several promising therapeutic applications but which they will initially focus on diabetes. Pre-clinical data has reportedly demonstrated that these cells uniquely secrete insulin in response to glucose, thereby mimicking the “normal” physiological state.


ProChon Biotech, Ltd., a company working with tissue regenerative technologies announced that it recently received the Genzyme Award for Excellence in Cartilage Research for its poster presentation entitled, “Comparative Analysis of Cell Sources for Cartilage Cell Therapy.” The company reports that the research recognized by the award is incorporated into their development pipeline and will compliment its BioCart™ Cartilage Regeneration System.

Prochon's BioCart Cartilage Regeneration System is an autologous chondrocyte implant system that - and here's why I love this story because this is just another example of a commercially-available cell therapy that people in the US never talk about - is commercially available in Italy, Greece and Israel and is undergoing an FDA Phase II multicenter clinical study in the United States. The company reports that to-date over 70 patients have received the BioCartTM implant with some patients over five years post-implantation.
I came across a nice piece this week discussing Arteriocyte Medical Systems' work on its DARPA-funded project to create human blood from stem cells at a rate that could allow the military and hospitals to produce units of blood on site. The company claims that with a technology developed by a company called Nanex, they are able to grow stem cells at a rate 10 to 100 times faster than with more traditional methods. The Nanex technology mimics a bone marrow environment in which stem cells can grow quickly. The trick now is to automate and scale-up the system to meet the specs DARPA required in its project paramaters.

Luke Timmerman, a recent Twitter convert (@ldtimmerman), and one of the most prodigious reporters on the biotech scene, has posted another great article on Dendreon with this great opening line: "Dendreon, as part of its plan to morph into a full-fledged company that discovers, develops, and markets cancer drugs, has worked behind the scenes to transform its shareholder base from a Wild West gallery into a roster of backers you might expect from a blue-chip biotech." The article, "Dendreon Tames Short Sellers, Transforms Itself into Old-School Buy-and-Hold Stock", is - as usual - a good read.
The LA Times carried a very thorough and informative piece on the state (promise and challenges) of therapeutic cancer vaccines that is also well worth the read.
Another interesting article I uncovered this week was a rather poorly written but informative review of some the scientific, clinical and regulatory progress in the field of stem cell research/therapy in India.


The latest issue of the journal Regenerative Medicine has been released and it looks well worth the read. Here the table of contents.

Hope this was useful.

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