Fate Therapeutics, a stem cell therapeutics company founded in 2007 on technology licensed from several US academic and research institutions, said last week that it has bolstered its patent portfolio by exclusively licensing intellectual property from the lab of one of its scientific co-founders.
The IP, licensed primarily from Children's Hospital Boston but also covering technology developed by a researcher from Massachusetts General Hospital, is related to compositions and methods for supporting hematopoietic stem cells, the company said.
The agreements brings to seven the number of universities or research institutions with which Fate has disclosed licensing agreements to support its strategy of developing small molecules and biologics to modulate cells for therapeutic purposes.
The technology at the heart of the deal was invented in the laboratory of Len Zon, director of the Stem Cell Program at Children’s Hospital Boston and a scientific co-founder of Fate.
Peter Hodges, a licensing officer at Children's, told BTW in an e-mail that two former postdocs in the Zon lab, Trista North and Wolfram Goessling, co-invented the technology. Although working in Zon's lab, Goessling was technically an employee of Mass General and as such his IP was assigned to the hospital.
Through an inter-institutional agreement, Children's was named as the lead institution in licensing the technology, and was the primary institution that negotiated with Fate, according to Hodges. He added that this was Children's first technology-licensing agreement with Fate, although the technology had been under option to the company for a year due to Zon's founding role with the company.
Seema Basu, senior business strategy and licensing manager with the Mass General Office of Corporate Sponsored Research and Licensing, told BTW that it made the most sense for Children's to take the lead on negotiations since Zon was the principal investigator and a scientific founder of the company.
Mass General had previously exclusively licensed to Fate technology that was developed by another Fate scientific co-founder, David Scadden, a professor at Harvard and co-director and co-founder of the Harvard Stem Cell Institute and director of Mass General's Center for Regenerative Medicine.
Basu said that the most recent IP differed from the founding IP in that they cover different ways to modulate adult hematopoietic stem cells.
"Depending on how the clinical development pans out, they could have different applications," Basu said. "There are many steps to that system's biology, and they all complement each other. A lot will pan out once [Fate] does more clinical development.
"We're excited that a therapeutic company is trying to take this technology into clinical development," she added.
Fate did not disclose additional details about the specific nature of the technology. In a statement, the company said that the exclusive rights acquired from Children's and Mass General will be incorporated into its "growing adult stem cell biology engine, which also includes exclusive rights" to research conducted by the company’s scientific founders.
Fate, based in La Jolla, Calif., was formed in late 2007 based on scientific research conducted at Harvard University, Stanford University, the University of Washington, Scripps Research Institute, and Mass General (see BTW, 12/3/2007).
Besides Zon and Scaddem, other scientific founders include Philip Beachy, professor at the Stanford Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine; Sheng Ding, associate professor at Scripps; and Randall Moon, chair and director of the Institute for Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine at UW.
In addition, in March Fate said that it had exclusively licensed IP from the Whitehead Institute of Biomedical Research related to mechanisms for reprogramming fully mature adult stem cells to a stem-like state (see BTW, 3/4/2009).
The Whitehead IP is based on the work of Rudolf Jaenisch, one of the founding members of the Whitehead Institute and a biology professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, of which the Whitehead Institute is an affiliate.
In March, Fate told BTW that it had negotiated licenses for stem cell IP developed in each of its founder's labs, and that it was is in the process of negotiating four or five more licensing deals with various institutions.
"Over the past two years, Fate Therapeutics has amassed extensive intellectual property assets as a foundation for our adult stem cell biology engine," Paul Grayson, president and CEO of Fate, said in a statement. "The agreement we signed today with Children’s Hospital and the technologies associated with it continue to expand our engine and accelerate the company’s core mission to develop small molecules and biologics that modulate adult stem cells for regenerative medicine."
Besides what it calls its "adult stem cell biology engine," the company is also using an induced pluripotent stem cell technology platform to develop its stem cell modulators — small molecules and biologics that guide cell fate for therapeutic purposes.
"The discovery of a number of conserved mechanisms from developmental biology and tissue repair has led to the identification of small molecules and biologics that can direct stem cell proliferation and function," the company said in a statement. "Fate is developing these small molecule and biologic stem cell modulators to modulate the activity of adult stem cells to stimulate healing or block cancer growth."
Fate also said that its approach has broad therapeutic potential in areas such as regenerative medicine, hematological diseases, metastatic cancer, traumatic injury, and degenerative diseases. The company’s first therapeutic candidate is scheduled to enter clinical trials this year in the therapeutic area it licensed from Children's: hematopoietic stem cell support.
In April, Fate Therapeutics and Boston-based Stemgent announced an alliance called Catalyst, a collaborative program to provide pharmaceutical and biotech partners with first access to their combined iPS cell technologies for drug discovery and development.
Fate is backed by venture capital firms ARCH Venture Partners, Polaris Venture Partners, Venrock, and OVP, although it has not disclosed the amounts invested by those VCs.