There have been some interesting news releases this week, including Osiris’ fast track designation, Cytori obtaining a 510k for their fat cleaner (not their stem cell isolation device, just a clinical fat cleaner), and the angiogenesis and liver regeneration capabilities of Aldagen’s aldehyde dehydrogenase positive sorted cells. However, the press release that really caught my attention is BioTime’s spinnout of Embryome Sciences.
BioTime, a blood preservation company, hit my radar recently when they hired Michael West, PhD, as CEO (he was already a board member). Dr. West has a long history building companies around embryonic stem (ES) cell technology. He was a founder of Geron, the first ES cell company, and more recently the President and CSO of Advanced Cell Technologies. Embryome will be focusing their business on the service and bioprocess supply sector of the cell therapy industry. Their initial product pipeline is planned to be:
- a database that outlines factors for driving ES cells towards different lineages or gene expression profiles (I believe this is the “Embryome” part),
- research reagents for directing ES differentiation towards specific lineages as suggested by the database (GMP manufactured growth factors or other reagents would be a nice niche for them to fill), and
- purification and quality control tools for post-culture processing of cells (removal of culture reagents and harvest enzymes) for therapeutic use, as cell washing and QC analysis are big challenges in the scale-up aspect of cellular therapy.
Why is this news from an obscure company that is just getting into the stem cell field interesting? I asked myself that same question. I tend to pay attention to people that have been around and seen a lot of things in industry, as they tend to have unique perspectives on everything. My initial thoughts were that Dr. West was leveraging the opportunity for BioTime to get some of the money available from the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine(CIRM). However, I think he is also addressing significant needs that he has seen at the his two prior companies: 1) how do you control ES cell phenotype and function in culture, and 2) how do you produce sufficiently clean material for human use. Embryome will be providing the software and hardware for regenerative therapies, but not the therapies themselves. So Embryome is a tools company, just like Invitrogen – only much smaller.
There is definitely a need for these types of products in the cell therapy industry, but I am not quite sure there is a large enough market today in ES cell R&D to support a profitable business. This is where Governor Schwarzenegger and CIRM are thinking ahead by supporting new companies, such as Embryome, with government funding until the market matures. As the markets emerge and become substantial enough to support profitable businesses, these companies will be established in California and will generate new waves of tax income for the state. I think Michigan (my home state with a SHAKY economy) should really be paying attention here, as we Michiganders could really use some good ideas.