San Diego-based Fate Therapeutics and Stemgent, a provider of stem cell research products headquartered in Cambridge, MA, have joined forces to offer new developments in so-called induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cell technology for research purposes. The joint effort could provide Fate with a new source of money to develop drugs based on the same technology.
The so-called Catalyst program, formed by the two companies, is focused on making available technology from the labs of Sheng Ding at the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, CA, and Rudolf Jaenisch at the Whitehead Institute in Cambridge that grows out of those researchers’ work on iPS cells—cells engineered in the lab to provide many of the capabilities of embryonic stem cells, without the need for harvesting cells from embryos. (Jaenisch and Ding are founders of Fate, and Ding is also a founder of Stemgent). In exchange for undisclosed payments to be shared by Fate and Stemgent, the Catalyst program will provide large pharmaceutical companies, big biotech firms, and academic labs with access to the Jaenisch and Ding work. Ding, for instance, is the first to report that he has developed a technique of using cell-penetrating proteins to induce rodent cells to a stem-cell-like state, and his findings are due to be published today in academic journal Cell Stem Cell. Jaenisch has found a way to induce cells to a stem-cell-like state with cells from a Parkinson’s disease patient.
The idea behind Catalyst is for paying members to use the iPS technologies from Jaenisch and Ding’s labs to, say, test the toxicity of drugs or perform other research. Fate CEO Paul Grayson says that the Catalyst program could bring his young company millions of dollars in annual revenue to use for drug development. For Stemgent, the Catalyst program is yet another case in which it can sell stem cell technologies from leading academic labs to the research market, says Ian Ratcliffe, the company’s CEO.
“For us, it’s being able to bring in research funding but also input from scientists at Stemgent and the scientists of other pharmaceutical Catalyst partners,” Grayson says. “It’s a mechanism for us to catalyze a new invention and gain a better understanding of cell fate modulation.”
What makes Ding’s discovery important is that he has found a way of creating iPS cells without the use of genetic materials such as cancer genes, a technique used in many of the first iPS cell advances. Ratcliffe says that changing the underlying genetics of a cell could pose health risks if the cell is to eventually be used in actual patients—Ding’s protein-based method of making iPS cells offers a potentially safer option.
Fate—which was also co-founded by venture capitalists from the Seattle office of ARCH Venture Partners—funded Ding’s new iPS study and is investigating use of his protein-based method to treat multiple diseases.
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