Stem cells take Manhattan!

Times Square, NYC

At the 3rd Annual Stem Cell Summit held today in the New York Hilton Hotel, several ground-breaking discoveries were disclosed that bring us closer to personalized medicine: advances in patient-derived stem cells, diabetes and insulin, as well as in the clinical trials and services in the stem cell sector.

One major advance was the claim by PrimeGen Biotech that they have perfected a way to create induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells without use of a retrovirus. Not only that, but John Sundsmo (President) said that PrimeGen’s proprietary method had a much higher yield than the famous Yamanaka protocol. So at face value it would appear that we are getting closer to the reality of personalized medicine based on patient-derived stem cells that have the features of an embryonic cell but none of the ethical controversy.

Diabetes remains a huge health care issue (estimated direct costs of $92 billion in 2002). Novocell Inc. President & CEO Alan Lewis described his company’s recent efforts to create insulin-producing cells from embryonic cells. Novocell was able to create pancreatic cell cultures in which 14-20% of cells were producing significant amounts of insulin offering a potential major source of cell-based treatments for both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetics.

Further evidence of the rapid maturity of the stem cell sector was the large number of presenting companies who are in advanced clinical trials, e.g. Aastrom Biosciences Inc. (Phase III), Osiris Therapeutics Inc. (three Phase III studies) and Aldagen Inc. (Phase II/III).

Finally, there appeared to be lots of activity in the service segment of the stem cell sector, for example, clinical grade manufacturing (Progenitor Cell Therapy LLC, Cognate BioServices Inc), drug discovery (BioE Corporation, Stemina Inc.) and veterinary services (Vet-Stem Inc.).