By Ben Butkus
Stem cell company Cellular Dynamics International said today that it has exclusively licensed intellectual property from Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis related to methods for purifying stem cells and using them in drug testing.
This is the second academic institution in the last two months from which CDI has licensed stem-cell technology to bolster its IP position in the field of using pluripotent stem cells to produce large quantities of differentiated cells, particularly cardiomyocytes, as tools for drug screening.
In May, CDI said that it had exclusively licensed a patent portfolio from the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York that covers methods for creating progenitor cultures of cardiomyocytes from pluripotent cells (see BTW, 6/3/2009).
CDI is a 2004 spinout of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and as such also has a license to induced pluripotent stem-cell technology developed at that institution by stem-cell pioneer James Thomson.
Also, in December, in conjunction with an $18 million Series A financing round, CDI said that it merged with two sister University of Wisconsin spinouts, Stem Cell Products and iPS Cells, though it is unclear whether it obtained pertinent IP as a result of the merger (see BTW, 12/3/2008).
Together, CDI's various stem-cell licenses — which may include as-yet undisclosed agreements with other academic institutions or companies — provide it with what it believes to be a leading IP position and thus freedom to operate in the field.
"CDI is building an industrial pipeline and automated process enabling us to plug in different cell types and generate large quantities of purified cells," Chris Kendrick-Parker, chief commercial officer for CDI, said in a statement.
"That is the primary requirement for commercial application of these cells as tools in the pharmacology and toxicity-testing market," Kendrick-Parker added. "Similar to our recent agreement with Mt. Sinai School of Medicine, the IUPUI agreement ensures that we have a commercial advantage in this area, providing our customers with the comfort that they are unencumbered when they do business with us."
Under its agreement with IUPUI, CDI gains the rights to a cell-purification strategy developed by Loren Field, a professor of medicine and pediatrics at the Indiana University School of Medicine and director of the Riley Heart Research Center at IUPUI. Financial terms of the agreement were not disclosed.
CDI said that the strategy enables greater than 90 percent purity of any cell type. The method involves engineering stem cells to include a selectable marker that allows researchers to identify and select a particular cell type from various terminal cell types such as cardiomyocytes, blood cells, or neurons.
The license also covers the use of cardiomyocytes purified through this technology for drug testing. Although cardiomyocytes are CDI's "entrée" into the market, the company said that it has programs in place to develop multiple cell types, and the IUPUI patents will allow it to develop those cells into highly purified populations.
Further, CDI's license with IUPUI includes pending patents at the European Patent Office, and includes sub-licensing rights.
The Indiana Research and Technology Corporation, the non-profit agency that handles all tech-transfer activities for Indiana University, brokered the deal between IUPUI and CDI.
According to a spokesperson for IUPUI, IRTC handles all tech-transfer activities for the school, regardless of whether the invention was made by an IU- or Purdue University-affiliated faculty member at IUPUI.
It is unclear whether IU receives a portion of any upfront payments or royalties from CDI as part of the agreement, or whether IUPUI receives all of the licensing income. Calls to IRTC were not returned in time for this publication.