I am not sure if you noticed, but the stem cell stocks haven’t been performing all that great in 2007, especially compared to technology companies like Apple or Google. So now seems as good a time as any to start a blog that will help to demystify the area of regenerative medicine and cell-based therapies for the masses. Since I work at one of the companies on the above graph (Aastrom, not Apple), you might think that I am kicking myself for PhDing in the biological science and not getting a computer science degree. However, I could not be more enthusiastic to be in this field today, especially at a clinical stage company such as Aastrom. I believe that regenerative medicine is at an exciting crossroads, and I am thrilled to be in the trenches addressing the challenges of shepherding cell-based therapies through the FDA and towards commercialization.
When I finished my PhD in 2001, I felt extremely fortunate to get a relevant job in the field of regenerative medicine. I spent four years at BD Technologies (the corporate research center of BD) in a budding cell therapy group. I realized as the pioneering companies were filing for bankruptcy in 2002 (Advanced Tissue Sciences & Organogenesis), many large pharma or medical device companies were evaluating the cell therapy technology space. Companies such as BD and JNJ were starting up internal research programs and spreading their bets out between various start-ups in the form of equity investments. BD’s venture arm has investments in companies like Novocell, Cellerant, Progenitor Cell Therapies, and now defunct RenaMed, to name a few. JNJ has also been active investing in regenerative medicine start-ups, and provided much of the initial funding for Tengion (http://www.tengion.com/news/press/20050803.cfm ), and is currently a major shareholder of Novocell as well (http://geneticsandsociety.org/article.php?id=3445). This is very standard for how technology-based fields evolve. Early adopter companies form and often fail, but they do succeed in removing some risk from the technology. As risk decreases, large companies try to figure out how to play in the new technology sandbox that is littered with small companies. Today, even Baxter is running a cell therapy clinical trial for cardiac regeneration, PerkinElmer is buying up cord blood banks, Celgene is dabbling in placenta-derived cells, and Teva Pharmaceuticals has an autologous MSC long bone trail underway.
There is still a lot of risk left in the field, but I believe that Chris Mason was pretty accurate when he coined the term Regenerative Medicine 2.0 (this is a great read), drawing parallels between some of today’s regenerative medicine companies and Web 2.0 companies such as YouTube and Facebook. There are currently some companies with reasonably strong balance sheets and novel cell-based therapies targeting significant markets. Some senior managers bring 15+ years of experience to the field, and they have learned from the mistakes that have been made along the way. I am most definitely looking forward to a bright future for Regenerative Medicine 2.0, and you can follow the field right here at The Regeneration Station.
Full disclosure: I own stock in Apple, Google, Celgene, JNJ, and Aastrom.