01 Apr Cellular Dynamics hits market with UW research heavyweights
Three noted UW-Madison biotech researchers, including stem-cell pioneer James Thomson, have begun construction on a laboratory to house a new drug screening company in Madison’s University Research Park.
In partnership with Tactics II Ventures LP, a venture capital firm that specializes in early-stage life science companies, UW researchers Thomson, Craig January and Timothy Kamp have started Cellular Dynamics International (CDI). The privately held company will focus first on developing screening services for pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies to assist in the development of safer and more effective drugs, using stem cells and human embryonic kidney (HEK) cells.
“I’ve always been very proud of how strongly associated Wisconsin has become with the stem-cell field,” Thomson said in a release. “There is a tremendous opportunity for this field to benefit Wisconsin economically. But we face stiff competition from other states such as California and New Jersey, which are making very large public investments in stem cell research. I hope that the legacy of CDI will be in that it demonstrates that it is possible to set up a successful, profitable stem-cell company in Wisconsin, and it will inspire others to set up businesses here too.”
CDI plans to build its screening services around two different technologies that were developed at UW-Madison. The company’s initial screening services will use HEK cell techniques developed in January’s lab at Madison for hERG screening, hERG channels being a type of path through the body that can be blocked, leading to health problems.
HEK cells are kidney-derived cells that have been modified to have some of the electrical conductivity properties of human heart cells. This methodology is now widely accepted as a technique for screening new drug candidates for adverse side effects on patients’ hearts before new drugs are tried on animals and humans.
“In the last several years, biotechnology-based cell screening methods have assumed a much greater importance,” January said in a release. “These methods have allowed for the early recognition of potential cardiac side effects of new drug candidates. One direct result is that thousands of patients’ lives have been saved. CDI’s services will be focused on such life saving technologies.”
The company’s future lines of screening services will use technologies developed by Thomson and Kamp to make actual human heart cells available for drug screening. Adult human heart cells do not survive well or reproduce outside of a living human heart, making it impractical to use native human heart cells to screen drug candidates in a laboratory before testing them on live animals and humans.
Thomson and Kamp developed a technique to reliably direct human embryonic stem cells to become heart cells, making it possible to use them to screen drug candidates for safety and effectiveness in a lab before they are given to animals and human patients.
“We are thrilled to be building a new company in Wisconsin with such renowned scientists as James Thomson, Craig January and Timothy Kamp,” said Bob Palay, managing member of Tactics II Ventures and chairman of CDI, in the company release. “We believe that this is an exciting opportunity to utilize these exciting new techniques to improve and protect human health. These novel drug screens promise to speed the development of many new safe and effective drugs.”
Bob Palay and his brother Tom are founders of NimbleGen Systems, which also is a tenant in University Research Park. Other tenants include notable bioscience companies Third Wave Technologies, GenTel, OpGen and Invitrogen.