Promega and Stemina Biomarker Discovery announced this week that they plan to co-validate Promega's cell-based assays in human embryonic stem cells, a deal that marks Promega's first partnership in the stem cell arena.
Likewise, a Promega official said the company in the future plans to pen similar deals with academic scientists.
Georgyi Los, the imaging and stem cells group leader at Promega, said this week that the company "realized the importance of stem cells today for scientific research," and decided "to optimize and test [its existing] assays using hESCs."
Terms of the deal, which will run for "at least" the next six months, call for Promega to provide certain of its cell-based assays, instruments, and experience developing cell-based assays, and for Stemina, which specializes in developmental toxicology, to provide its expertise growing and monitoring hESCs, said Los.
Financial details of the agreement were not disclosed.
Los said Promega would "like to explore" different aspects of ESC biology, specifically induced pluripotent stem cells. The firm has two specific goals for such cells: to determine if they can be used in functional assays, which includes observing their ability to tolerate toxicity; and to study whether they can be employed as genetic-identity tools for use by forensic scientists.
The companies signed the deal Jan. 26, announced it three weeks later, and held their first technical meeting this week, Los said. "We will be working together for at least the next six months, and we will definitely have an opportunity to extend this agreement.
"The goal is to publish our observations," said Los. "I hope that within six or eight months, interesting data will have been generated by Promega and Stemina."
Next Up: Academia
The agreement is the first between Promega and Stemina, and is the first deal Promega has signed with a stem-cell company. Promega in the future plans to pen similar deals with academic scientists. Los declined to elaborate, saying the agreements are still being hashed out.
Describing the academic deals, Los said Promega "would like to provide [funding] to the scientists and support their research, and we would … like to explore different aspects of ESC biology, specifically induced pluripotent stem cells."
But in contrast with commercial alliances, Promega's academic agreements will "mainly … be supporting [scientists'] research and looking into iPS cells and their potential role as a drug target identification and compound screening model."
Stemina was founded in late 2006 by CEO Elizabeth Donley and Chief Scientific Officer Gabriela Cezar, who is also an assistant professor of animal sciences and human oncology at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.
The firm, which licenses its stem cell lines from UW's WiCell Research Institute, aims to commercialize the metabolomics technology platform that Cezar developed at UW (see CBA News, 3/9/07). That platform uses mass spectrometry to identify small molecules that are differentially secreted across multiple samples.
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According to April Weir, a cell biologist and biochemist at Stemina, the firm relies mostly on H9 cell lines, but it also works with H7s, H1s, and H14s. Weir and her colleagues use these hESCs "as a way to predict developmental toxicity," and are currently proving their concept.
To that end, they screen drugs that are known to be teratogenic, look at the medium from the cells, and perform metabolomic studies to look for biomarkers of teratogenicity, Weir told CBA News this week.
"With Promega, it is possible that some of their assays that we are testing will provide us with another readout of toxicity, but that would be later on," said Weir.
Describing her firm's work studying specific developmental toxicity biomarkers, Weir said "we only look at small molecules or metabolites." She, added that Stemina has "some interesting data," but did not elaborate.
"Basically, we are looking for those metabolites that change in abundance in response to the treatment of cells with a known teratogen, but that do not change when cells are treated with a safe drug," Weir said.
After Madison, Wis.-based Promega decided to look into hESC biology, it identified several local start-up companies as potential partners. Ultimately, Promega decided to tap Madison-based Stemina as its "number one choice," Los said.
After a couple of rounds of business and scientific discussions, "we decided we have common goals and can help each other to move forward," said Los.
The deal was announced one week after Promega and Celsis In Vitro Technologies said they have entered into a co-marketing agreement under which Celsis will pre-qualify its cryopreserved hepatocytes for use with Promega's bioluminescent ADME/Tox assays, including the P450-Glo CYP450 assay and the GSH-Glo glutathione assay.
Terms of that deal call for Celsis IVT to prevalidate its cells on Promega's kits and make that data available to Promega and Promega customers on the Celsis website. The deal, which will run for two years and is renewable, is the first formal agreement between the two companies (see CBA News, 2/13/2009).