SAN DIEGO – Millipore said this week that it has awarded Jeanne Loring, a stem cell researcher at the Scripps Research Institute, a $150,000 grant to support her research in the area of microRNA-based induction of pluripotency in stem cells.
The award was made through the Millipore Foundation, a Millipore program that offers grants in for K–12 science education, bioscience research, and local community support.
The gift is the second major stem cell research award from the Millipore Foundation, and the first such award to a West Coast research institute. In September, the Millipore Foundation awarded a five-year, $500,000 grant to the Harvard Stem Cell Institute to fund HSCI’s Seed Grant Program, which provides early-stage gap funding for innovative projects in any field of stem cell research.
Like that grant, the award to Loring’s lab at Scripps is “no-strings-attached” research support, with no commercialization obligations or benefit to Millipore other than the fact that the grants have positioned the company as a research partner to a pair of prominent stem cell research institutions, those involved with the deal said.
Millipore chairman and CEO Martin Madaus announced the Scripps award at the Biotechnology Industry Organization International Conference, held here this week.
“This is a fast-moving field, so you want to be associated with the leading researchers and leading institutes,” Madaus told BTW at BIO. “For us, being associated with Harvard and now Scripps is important, because you develop these relationships, and these are also the users of your products.
“As they make discoveries and develop them, I think the opportunity to be there as a partner for them is much higher,” Madaus added. “But this is strictly a research grant, with no strings attached.”
Loring said that Millipore didn’t have to pay her to consider future commercial partnerships with the company. “I would do that anyway,” she said. “I actively seek commercial partners, and it is good to have a really strong relationship. I think this is indicative of the strength of our relationship.”
Under the terms of the agreement, Millipore will provide Loring’s lab increments of $50,000 a year for three years with the option to renew the funding each year at its discretion, the company said.
According to Loring, the grant differs from traditional sponsored research in that she was allowed to choose the research topic, and there are no intellectual property or milestone obligations associated with the award.
“I see this more as a gift to promote the research, rather than a grant to do something for them, because there are no obligations,” she said.
“As they make discoveries and develop them, I think the opportunity to be there as a partner for them is much higher. But this is strictly a research grant, with no strings attached.”
Specifically, Loring said that her proposed project would seek to discover a way to treat cells with miRNAs “that either directs them to differentiate in a particular way, or to induce pluripotency. A lot of people are interested in miRNAs for a lot of applications,” Loring said. “This is certainly one of them and Millipore is aware of it.”
Loring’s relationship with Millipore stems from a partnership she had with Chemicon – which Millipore added as a business unit when it acquired Serologicals in 2006 – and she said that her group has maintained an active collaboration with Millipore’s scientists. Researchers from Millipore and Loring’s lab are currently preparing for publication a paper describing the use of Millipore filter systems for human embryonic stem cell growth, she said.
“I treat the scientists in industry just like I would those in academia,” Loring said. “If they have a specific expertise that complements our specific expertise, then it is a go, as far as I’m concerned. Neither one of us could do it on our own.”
Brock Reeve, executive director of the Harvard Stem Cell Institute, told BTW this week that its award from Millipore, which is doled out in increments of $100,000 annually over five years to fund innovative stem cell research projects, “does not have specific attachments” to it.
“It is a gift from the Millipore Foundation,” he said. “Of course, our whole goal is to move things to the clinic and commercialize promising technologies.” As such, he said, Millipore has the advantage of being in the know when specific projects of interest come down the pipeline.
“I think this is an expression of their commitment to the stem-cell field,” Reeve said.
There is no specific quid pro quo attached to the award, Reeve added. However, once HSCI’s review committee selects projects for funding, Millipore has a chance to review them to provide additional funding. In May 1, the HSCI named the 10 recipients of 2008 Seed Grant awards, and also said that Sangeeta Bhatia of Brigham and Women's Hospital was chosen to receive additional support from the Millipore Foundation. Bhatia is developing a high-throughput platform for probing inductive interactions in embryonic stem cell differentiation.
Millipore has expanded its support for stem-cell research in the past year. In addition to the Harvard Stem Cell Institute grant, executives at BIO said that the company has established traditional sponsored research agreements with several companies and academic institutions, including the University of California, Santa Barbara, in the area of stem cells.
The company has also been collaborating with the Australian Stem Cell Centre, a consortium of several Australian universities.
Millipore said that it currently offers more than 1,000 stem cell-specific products, including a market-leading neural stem cell offering. It is currently building its core stem cell research capacity in Temecula, Calif.
“We have a very strong commitment in this area,” Madaus said. “Given our presence in the biotech market as a leading tool provider, we aim to provide tools for researchers to grow stem cells.” Madaus added that Millipore’s commitment in this area mirrors its development of a wide range of tools for monoclonal antibody research.
He also said that Millipore would likely continue to both sponsor research and provide donations to support research in the stem-cell area.
“We’re an application development company,” Madaus said. “We’re good at taking inventions and making products out of them.”