Talk about six degrees of separation, in the retinal field our sector companies are working with more like two. Three of our sector companies are currently working on stem cell solutions for diseases of the retina. StemCells, Inc. (STEM) is collaborating with the Casey Eye Institute in preclinical studies on retinal degenerative diseases including age-related macular degeneration and retinitis pigmentosa.
Advanced Cell Technology (ACT), which holds many patents but has either contributed them to a new joint venture or licensed its technology, is currently concentrating solely on stem cell retinal solutions. The company is, "focused on using proprietary technologies to generate stable cell lines including retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) cells for the treatment of diseases of the eye, including macular degeneration."
Here's what ACT has to say on its web site about its pre-clinical research:
"ACT demonstrated the ability to rescue visual function in rats through implantations of RPE cells derived from human embryonic stem cells. In collaboration with Raymond Lund at the University of Utah, the company performed RPE transplantation into sub-retinal space of rats that naturally become blind in several weeks due to RPE degeneration and photoreceptor death."
Here's what STEM has to say in a 2008 press release about its pre-clinical research:
StemCells, Inc. (STEM) reported today that its proprietary HuCNS-SC ® product candidate (purified human neural stem cells), when transplanted into a well-established animal model, can protect the retina from progressive degeneration. This promising study was conducted by Dr. Raymond Lund, a researcher and professor at the Casey Eye Institute at Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) and his research team.
Yes, it's the same Dr. Lund. In 2005, he was appointed Vice Chair of research at the Moran Eye Center in Utah. In 2007, Dr. Lund was recruited to join the faculty of the Oregon Retinal Degeneration Center at the Casey Eye Institute.
The third player, not as a result of any implicit ranking by the way, is International Stem Cell Corporation (ISCO). ISCO licensed all of ACT's technology pertaining to human diabetes, liver diseases, retinal diseases and retinal degenerative diseases in 2005 and also agreed to collaborate with ACT in certain research areas. ISCO has been developing its own technology based on these licenses.
Here's what ISCO has to say on its web site about its pre-clinical research in the retinal arena:
ISCO is immediately focused on producing cells to benefit patients suffering from retinal degeneration caused by age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and retinitis pigmentosa (RP). ISCO has begun the process of research leading to the production of retinal pigment epithelial (RPE) cells and photoreceptor cells for use in early stage clinical studies. Work in this field is already being done in conjunction with leading stem cell researcher Dr. Hans Keirstead at the Reeve-Irvine Research Center. RPE cells have already shown an ability to slow the progress of retinal disease when transplanted into animals and human patients. ISCO has exclusive rights to technologies to produce retinal cells from stem cells, including human embryonic stem (hES) cells.
The bold type is ours. It referes to the license agreement ISCO and ACT. Apparently, and we use the word with caution here, the collaboration agreed to with ACT allows almost joint development in certain arenas. Here's the operative paragraph from the ISCO 10K:
"The agreements with Advanced Cell Technology further provide that any technology either party currently owns, develops or licenses in the future may be licensed on a non-exclusive basis by the other party for use in specific fields. This arrangement gives ISCO continuing access to future discoveries made or licensed by Advanced Cell Technology in our fields of diabetes, liver disease, retinal disease, plus all research products, and obligates ISCO to provide similar license rights to Advanced Cell Technology in the fields of blood and cardiovascular diseases." (Bold type is ours).
Here is ISCO's introductory explanation on their 10K concerning the ACT license agreements:
In May 2005, ISCO entered into three exclusive license agreements with Advanced Cell Technology for the production of therapeutic products in the fields of diabetes, liver disease, retinal disease, and the creation of research products in all fields. The license agreements give us access to all aspects of Advanced Cell Technology’s human cell patent portfolio as it existed on that date, plus a combination of exclusive and non-exclusive rights to future developments. A significant feature of the licensed technology is that it allows us to isolate and differentiate Human Embronic Stem cells (hES) directly from a “blastocyst.” The hES cells can be immediately differentiated into stem cells capable of expansion and differentiation into islet cells, liver cells, and retinal cells.
The world of stem cell research oriented, pre-commercial stage companies is indeed a small one and we look forward to seeing how these relationships and connections evolve.