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UW-Madison Startup Cellular Dynamics Licenses Cardiovascular Stem Cell IP from NY's Mount Sinai

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This article was originally published on May 29.

Cellular Dynamics International, a 2004 spinout of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, has exclusively licensed a patent portfolio covering human cardiovascular progenitor cells from the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, the company said yesterday.

According to CDI, the licensing agreement broadens what it believes to be its leading IP position in the areas of using stem cells as starting materials to produce large quantities of cells, particularly cardiomyocytes, as tools for drug screening.

"This gives us multiple methods to arrive at the end goal of making fully functional terminal tissues from pluripotent cells, and really gives us the freedom to operate through a variety of methods to generate large quantities of cardiomyocytes as a tool," Chris Kendrick-Parker, chief commercialization officer for CDI, told BTW.

CDI has licensed related patents from other academic institutions and companies, but the Mount Sinai deal is the first it has disclosed. Kendrick-Parker said that the company would likely announce another licensing deal in coming weeks.

Kendrick-Parker also said that CDI wanted to draw attention to this deal because of its exclusivity, something academic institutions are not always eager to grant when a company is mainly seeking freedom to operate.

"We've tried to basically create a portfolio of patents that allows us to use the most efficient means necessary to arrive at those cell types, and to have choices to arrive at the best population [of cells] for our customers," Kendrick-Parker said.

"This helps us make sure that we have a marked advantage in this area, and that our customers know that when they do business with us they are unencumbered," he added.

Specific terms of the licensing agreement between CDI and MSSM have not been disclosed, although it is likely that the exclusive license cost CDI more than a non-exclusive license would have.

The MSSM patent portfolio is based on the research of Gordon Keller, who from 1999 to 2006 served as a professor of gene and cell medicine at MSSM. Keller is currently the director of the McEwen Centre for Regenerative Medicine at the University Health Network in Toronto.

It is unclear how many patents make up the licensed portfolio, or whether it contains issued patents, applications, or both. A request for comment from the MSSM Office of Technology and Business Development was still pending as of the publication of this article.

The most closely related technology in the MSSM OTBD online database of available inventions is entitled "Novel Embryonic Stem-Cell Derived Cardiovascular Progenitors for Cellular Therapy and Drug Discovery," on which Keller is listed as primary inventor. A patent application has been filed for this invention, the listing notes.

The IP relates to creating progenitor cultures of cardiomyocytes from pluripotent cells, which involves isolating a population of cells in the earlier stages of embryoid body formation, and then attempting to proliferate them.

"This gives you a means of purifying those cells for applications downstream," Kendrick-Parker said. "The key issue here is that they are cardiac progenitor cells, so they're not fully differentiated cardiomyocytes."

CDI said that the cells are also capable of differentiating into other heart cell types, such as endothelial cells and vascular smooth muscle cells, both in vitro and in vivo. As such, the patents support one of CDI's business goals, which is to sell research tools and services for call what it calls in vitro clinical trials.

"We can make cardiomyocytes from hundreds of individuals, basically allowing us to recapitulate what happens in clinical trials in a Petri dish or a 96-well plate," Kendrick-Parker said.

CDI may also be interested in using the MSSM technology in conjunction with the patents it has licensed from the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation, UW-Madison's tech-transfer company, to mass-produce cells for large-scale screening campaigns at pharmaceutical companies or even regenerative medicine applications.

"We've really built an industrial pipeline to be able to plug different cell types in to be able to generate large quantities, because that is really the primary requirement for a commercial entity," Kendrick-Parker said.

"There are a lot of different institutions where we think if we can industrialize the process of making iPS cells, then there is a business to be had in the generation of those materials," he added.

Furthermore, CDI may be seeking to develop or in-license IP related to the derivation of other cell types. Kendrick-Parker said that cardiomyocytes are merely the company's "entrée into the market," and that the company has programs "for a variety of different cell types that run the gamut of tools that are required for pharmacology and toxicity testing."

In a statement, Patrick McGrath, executive director of MSSM's OTBD, said that the school was "pleased that CDI has selected MSSM's technology for producing and using cardiomyocytes and other cardiac cells. OTBD believes that CDI is well-qualified to take the final steps to commercially develop MSSM's translational research into products and services that will benefit the drug-development process and, ultimately, cardiac patients worldwide."

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