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Aldagen, UC-Davis Pact Aims to Develop Rx Candidates for Neural, Vascular Diseases

Biotech firm Aldagen and the University of California-Davis said this week that they plan to investigate if Aldagen’s adult stem-cell population can be used in a preclinical rat model of ischemic stroke, and if it can eventually play a role in creating drugs for other kinds of vascular or neurological disorders.
The collaboration will be the first to involve researchers at the UC-Davis Institute for Regenerative Cures, a new $62 million facility supported by the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine.
Aldagen and UC-Davis are betting that the collaboration will produce potential therapies for vascular disease and blossom into clinical trials to test treatments for revascularizing blood vessels in the legs of patients with chronic vascular disease, officials said.
In addition, Aldagen hopes its work with UC-Davis researchers can help it apply its stem-cell technology to additional disease areas, such as neurological disease.
The research collaboration is outlined in a memorandum of understanding that Aldagen and UC-Davis inked last week. Under the agreement, researchers from both entities will plan and develop translational tools, models, and technologies that could lead to stem cell-based treatments for a variety of diseases, UC-Davis said.
A spokesperson for the UC-Davis Institute for Regenerative Cures told BTW this week that the MOA outlines only an early-stage research collaboration and therefore does not discuss provisions surrounding potential sponsored research, intellectual property, or commercial products.
Aldagen is a 1999 spinout of Duke University. It was founded as StemCo Biomedical by researchers at Duke’s Comprehensive Cancer Center and Stem Cell Transplant Program, and changed its name to Aldagen in 2005.
The company’s core technology platform, licensed from Duke, is a method for isolating specific populations of adult stem cells that express high levels of aldehyde deyhdrogenase. These cells, also known as ALDH-bright cells, have been shown to induce the formation of new vascular tissue in animal models.
Researchers have also demonstrated that the cells can restore functional nerves and ameliorate symptoms in mouse models of inherited lethal human nervous system disorders.

Aldagen will be the first corporate partner to take advantage of the stem cell program as it expands into the newly built UC-Davis Institute for Regenerative Cures.

These two repair capabilities would be important for treating ischemic stroke, typically caused by clots that cut off the supply of oxygen to the brain, damaging surrounding blood vessels and brain tissue.
According to the American Stroke Association, about 780,000 people a year suffer a new or recurrent stroke. It is the third-leading cause of death and the leading cause of disability in adults. According to the American Heart Association, 87 percent of all strokes are ischemic.
Leading the Aldagen-UC Davis research collaboration will be Martha O’Donnell, professor of physiology and membrane biology; and Jan Nolta, director of the UC Davis Institute for Regenerative Cures.
UC Davis broke ground on the $60 million, 92,000-square-foot institute in late September. The facility, which is designed to house the university's expanding stem cell research program, is supported in part by a $20 million grant from CIRM, and is one of seven entities in California designated as a CIRM Institute.
The UC Davis IRC is the first state-supported stem cell research institute to break ground in Northern California. Earlier this month, the University of Southern California broke ground for the Eli and Edythe Broad CIRM Center for Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Research.
The UC Davis Stem Cell Program, with which O’Donnell and Nolta are affiliated, has collaborated with industry before. For example, in June 2007 the program inked a collaborative research agreement with ThermoGenesis to develop stem cell therapies based on the company’s blood processing systems.
However, Aldagen will be the first corporate partner to take advantage of the stem cell program as it expands into the new institute, which will include a state-of-the-art GMP facility. Aldagen and UC-Davis are hoping that their research partnership will dovetail into a more formal collaboration at the IRC and eventually, into clinical trials within the UC Davis Health System.
Aldagen currently has a pair of clinical trials underway in patients with chronic vascular disease to test the effectiveness of revascularization of blood vessels in the leg and the heart using ALDH-bright cells from a patient’s bone marrow.
In a statement, UC-Davis said that it too hopes to begin clinical studies by the end of 2009 to investigate whether adult stem cells can spur the revascularization of blood vessels in the legs of chronic vascular disease patients. It also said that it plans to conduct clinical trials on the use of regenerative medicine techniques to treat Huntington’s disease, heart attacks, and retinal occlusion.
“[UC Davis] has been able to recruit a team of internationally recognized stem cell experts, which complements the focus we have at Aldagen,” Ed Field, president and CEO of Aldagen, said in a statement. “We look forward to working with Jan Nolta and Martha O’Donnell to further expand our portfolio in vascular biology and to explore the potential of our stem cell therapies for the treatment of neural disease.”
In a statement, Nolta noted that “Aldagen’s techniques for stem cell isolation offer an approach for developing therapies that may be successful in clinical practice. The promise and potential of our stem cell work is greatly enhanced by this type of collaborative partnership with private industry.”

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