A $20-million deal announced today to license Canadian stem cell technology in the U.S. underscores the Toronto area's global leadership in stem cell research.
Under the agreement, Tissue Regeneration Therapeutics Inc. (TRT), an emerging Canadian life sciences company, will exclusively license its human umbilical cord perivascular cell (HUCPVC) technology to Stem Cell Authority Ltd. for family stem cell banking in the U.S. The licensing fees and annual minimum royalties will exceed $20-million (Cdn) over the next four years. The technology originated at the University of Toronto and has been offered to the public in Canada since March 2007 through a licensing agreement between TRT and Toronto-based CReAte Cord Blood Bank (CCBB).
"Toronto is the first place in the world to bank perivascular mesenchymal stem cells from the human umbilical cord and we are extremely pleased to now be able to provide this opportunity to parents across the U.S.," says Professor John E. Davies at U of T's Institute of Biomaterials and Biomedical Engineering, senior inventor of the technology. "This is a great example of how a university can facilitate the translation of professorial research from the university laboratory to commercial reality for the benefit of the public."
Currently, TRT technology is available to the Canadian public through CCBB, which markets HUCPVCs as Peristem™. Once the baby is born, a health professional simply collects the cord tissue and places it in a bio-container supplied with a nutrient solution and then ships it to the CReATe laboratories for processing and storage. A technician at the laboratory uses a proprietary process to remove the cells from the cord tissue and stores them for future use. Unlike cord blood stem cells, which can also be harvested, mesenchymal cells are the building blocks for the muscle, bone and connective tissues of the body. HUCPVCs also serve as regulators of the immune system. Published uses of mesenchymal cells in cell therapy include combating auto-immune and inflammatory diseases (Crohn's, juvenile diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis), cancer, heart disease and tissue engineering.
While the HUCPVC technology is still in the pre-clinical stage, TRT CEO Dr. Jeffrey Turner says that its development program designed to treat auto-immune and inflammatory diseases offers parents a type of "biological life insurance" that could one day treat all the diseases mentioned above and more. "What excites me is that our growing stem cell company in Canada is now offering its services to the U.S., which is essentially half the world market," Turner says. "We are now currently looking to expand into the Middle Eastern and Australian markets."
The HUCPVC breakthrough was announced in 2005 when the Davies research group at the University of Toronto discovered these stem cells in an uncharted part of the umbilical cord - the connective tissue immediately surrounding the blood vessels in the cord. The great advantages of this source of mesenchymal stem cells, compared with current techniques using surgically extracted cells from bone marrow, lie in sourcing them from tissue that would otherwise be thrown away at birth, their very rapid proliferation and the huge numbers of harvested stem cells.