With several companies entering clinical trials with potential stem cell therapies, there seems to be some question about which company is betting on what therapy. How similar are the products being tested? What are the differences? We'll attempt to sort out the answers to these questions here. But first some numbers.
Our 21 sector companies increased in market capitalization during 2010 by over $708 million, or 40% during 2010. $708 million, however, is still lower than the $725 million value of the largest stem cell company in the world in terms of market capitalization. Mesoblast is an Australian company working in adult stem cells and is not included among our stem cell sector companies because American companies traded on American exchanges was an original sector-inclusion criterion. We'll talk more about Mesoblast below.
Here are the 2010 Stem Cell Sector numbers:
- By Largest Market Capitalization
- By Greatest % Increase in 2010 Market Cap.
Mesoblast Limited, a publicly listed company in Australia, originally obtained an exclusive, worldwide license to develop the platform Mesenchymal Precursor Cell (MPC) technology for orthopedic applications from the Hanson Institute in Australia where the technology was first developed.
Angioblast Systems Inc. acquired a similar license for all other applications of MPC technology. Upon raising capital in December 2004 through a public offering on the Australian stock market, Mesoblast acquired an approximate 33% interest in Angioblast which subsequently has been increased to 39.2%..
Under a cost-sharing agreement among the parties, Mesoblast and Angioblast share costs associated with various development efforts related to the shared MPC platform technology.
Mesoblast on its own or through Angioblast has several trials under way using a stem cell therapy based on Mesenchymal Precursor Cells. But they are not alone. There are two companies in our Stem Cell Sector alone that are basing their future on some variation of Mesenchymal Stem Cells from human bone marrow: Osiris Therapeutics with Prochymal; and Athersys Inc. with Multistem. Mesoblast claims the following:
Other methods for isolating stem cells from tissues generally rely on their physical properties, such as large size. However, no physical properties are specific to mesenchymal-type adult stem cells, so the methods yield a mixed population of cells.
Mesoblast's technology gives a cell population containing up to 1000-fold greater concentrations of MPC than those achieved by conventional methods of isolation. Higher proportions of MPC mean more effective therapy and lower production costs."
Osiris claims pretty much the same thing, with the resultant product, Prochymal, currently in various stages of clinical trials for a variety of indications.
Athersys Inc., purchased world wide rights to work done at the University of Minnesota described in the following paragraphs:
Mesenchymal Stem Cells (MSCs) were initially isolated from bone marrow but are now shown to reside in almost every type of connective tissue. MSCs are characterized as a heterogeneous population of cells that proliferate in vitro as plastic-adherent cells able to develop as fibroblast colony forming-units. MSCs are distinguished from hematopoietic cells by being negative for the cell surface markers CD11b, CD14, CD34, CD45 and human leukocyte antigen (HLA)-DR but expressing CD73, CD90 and CD105. Importantly, the capacity to differentiate into multiple mesenchymal lineages including bone, fat and cartilage is used as a functional criterion to define MSCs.
In 2001 the laboratory of Catherine Verfaillie at the University of Minnesota described the Multipotent Adult Progenitor Cell (MAPC) as a novel progenitor cell present in adult marrow that is biologically and antigenically distinct from the mesenchymal stem cell (MSC). MAPCs represent a more primitive progenitor cell population than MSCs and demonstrate remarkable differentiation capability along the epithelial, endothelial, neuronal, myogenic, hematopoeitic, osteogenic, hepatic, chondrogenic, and adipogenic lineages. MAPCs thus embody a unique class of adult stem cells that emulate the broad biological plasticity characteristic of embryonic stem (ES) cells, while maintaining the characteristics that make adult stem cells more amenable to therapeutic application.
Unless you have access to the laboratories of each of these companies, it is unlikely that you know the actual difference between these various mesenchymal or premesenchymal products. Will only one of them be effective in trials? Will all of them prove effective? In the latter case the market capitalization of the companies will sift itself out based on price, cost and effective management. In the meantime we have the following market values for the three companies:
The question is whether the differences are justified at this point in therapy development.
- Mesoblast: $725 million
- Osiris Therapeutics: $255 million
- Athersys Inc. $50 million
Clearly there are differenences other than the commonality of their basic approaches to stem cell therapies. And the competition will be fun to watch as clinical trials for each proceed.