Welcome to your deal review for the month of January. There was a mixed bag of news last month, which included financing activity, industry partnerships and research collaborations. The cell therapy tools industry was front and centre as NeoStem and Invetech struck up a deal to develop a closed, automated cell manufacturing unit for patient-specific therapies.
On the financing side Stemline Therapeutics (STML) and VeraStem (VSTM), both cancer stem cell companies, were out trying to raise capital with varying success. While Stemline priced a deal early in the month to raise ~$60 million, a close has yet to be announced. Proceeds of the deal were to be used for clinical development of its SL-401 antibody targeting interleukin-3 on cancer stem cells. VeraStem successfully closed a $54 million public offering of common stock.
Cord blood stem cell banking giant Cord Blood Registry (CBR) announced a collaboration with Cellular Dynamics International (CDI) to produce induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) from newborn stem cells derived from either cord blood, or cord blood tissue. The research collaboration is a move by the CBR to extract additional value from cryopreserved cord blood for clients. By generating induced pluripotent stem cells using CDI’s methods, the company can provide yet another product offering. Current services available through CBR include storage of cord blood-derived and cord tissue-derived stem cells (both hematopoietic and mesenchymal stem cells).
The Cell Therapy Catapult, a translation centre based in the UK with a focus on cell therapy development, will conduct a Phase 2a study with Athersys (ATHX) for its bone marrow-derived cells (MultiStem) in patients with acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS). This follows an announcement that Athersys has been awarded a grant by Innovate UK, for up to £2 million in funding in support of the study. Mesenchymal stem cells have a unique immune tempering ability, via their secretome (the array of molecules secreted by the cell), that make them amenable to indications characterized by acute and aggressive immune response. This makes them suitable for indications like ARDS or sepsis. The Cell Therapy Catapult received £55 million from the UK government to build out infrastructure for GMP cell manufacturing and process development work. Its capacity is expected to be online in 2017.
The cell therapy tools industry should see immense growth in the coming years as companies, large and small, produce new solutions to make cell manufacturing a seamless and efficient process from start to finish, with in-line monitoring and quality control of cellular products. An example of this trend is a recent deal between privately-owned Invetech and NeoStem (NBS), who have partnered to develop a closed system cell manufacturing unit that can be deployed for the production of patient-specific therapies. Invetech will focus on system design and engineering, while NeoStem will put its cell expertise to work with the addition of various cell manipulation apparatuses inside the unit. An instrumentation platform, disposable flow path, and software interface for protocol selection will all be included in the unit design. NeoStem will supply the unit, commercially, which would make it the company’s first product in the cell therapy tools market.
Cell-based immunotherapy contender Kite Pharma (KITE), which is up against the likes of Juno Therapeutics (JUNO) in the quest for CAR-T therapies, is strengthening its preclinical research through a collaboration with Professor Zelig Eshhar at the Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center. Dr. Esshar is a pioneer in the CAR-T research, and will work with the company to develop novel approaches and targets for CAR-T therapy.
Manufacturing of patient-specific therapies is a hot topic in the cell therapy space. Not only with the news of the NeoStem-Invetech deal. Yesterday JUNO, which is cashed-up from its recent $300 million IPO, announced it has leased a space in Bothell, Washington to build its own manufacturing capabilities for the production of CAR-T therapies. While most companies will not have the cash, or clinical bandwidth, to justify this approach, the development of closed, modular cell manufacturing units should ensure there is GMP manufacturing capacity for patient-specific therapies wherever it is needed.