Q Therapeutics, a cell therapy company focusing on neural applications, recently announced a $15M series B financing that included funding from multiple venture capital (VC) groups as well as biotech tools provider Invitrogen. Q’s lead product, Q-Cells™, is an allogeneic product intended to restore function to damaged neurons by providing trophic (e.g. cytokines, growth factors) support and re-insulating damaged neurons in a variety of therapeutic indications. According to Q’s website, the Q-Cell platform technology is potentially applicable in a range of demyelinating diseases, including transverse myelitis, multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy, spinal cord injury, and other neurodegenerative diseases such as ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease) and Parkinson’s Disease. The companies technology is centered around patented research from Mahendra Rao’s lab. Currently, Dr. Rao is the VP of Stem Cell Research at Invitrogen, where some of Q’s series B funding came from.
The Q-Cells product is planned to begin clinical testing for transverse myelitis in 2009 at Johns Hopkins University. Working backwards from this time line, they should be planning their IND submission for early in 2009 at the latest. This means that they likely already have a set pilot scale manufacturing process that allows them to create a known amount of cells with specific characteristics, and that they are in the middle of preclinical animal testing with cells produced from these procedures. This development can take a significant amount of time after the basic research is done, and this is what Q has been focused on since launching the company in 2004.
Invitrogen’s investment and their subsequent seat on the board of directors (BOD) is very interesting to me. I have long been a fan of Invitrogen, and have been waiting to see how they were going to enter the field of cell therapy. Q Therapeutics likely hit Invitrogen’s radar screen when they hired Dr. Rao for his current VP position. If Invitrogen executes correctly, they can use their BOD seat and Dr. Rao’s involvement with the company to get clear insight into the tools and technologies that cell therapy companies will need during development and commercialization. This has the potential to be a win-win situation. Q will gain important technology expertise from Invitrogen’s various business units, and Invitrogen can gain first hand knowledge of the development and regulatory challenges that cell therapy companies need to overcome to reach the market. This should allow Q access to cutting edge tools and technologies with expertise to utilize them correctly, and Invitrogen to customize their technologies into GMP-grade reagents, assays, and equipment needed for manufacturing and releasing clinical-grade cellular products.
While Invitrogen has been coming out with medias and kits for research purposes, they have not been so great at providing tools that will help commercialize cell therapies. I know this first hand as I have been a shareholder of Invitrogen and have been attempting to give them suggestions (via technical reps I have met) over the last couple years without any luck. I think Invitrogen was so heavily focused on Research, that the Development tools had been lacking. However, with a seat on the board at an up-and-coming cell therapy company, Invitrogen can now gain this Development insight while they watch (and maybe help) Q’s scientific and regulatory teams go through the challenges of developing and filing an IND application. Invitrogen is now much better positioned to identify the next generation reagents, assays, kits, and equipment required for the commercialization of cell-based therapies. Q Therapeutics may also benefit along the way as well.
Disclosure: I am an on-again, off-again shareholder of Invitrogen.