30 Jan Wisconsin tries to woo another stem cell company
Madison, Wis. – Aruna Biomedical, a Georgia-based maker of neural stem cell kits for researchers, will relocate to Wisconsin if it can raise sufficient amounts of angel capital, a company executive confirmed.
The company, spun out of the University of Georgia in Athens in 2003, has received funding commitments from the State of Wisconsin and from Wisconsin Investment Partners, a Madison-based angel investment network, but it will need more backing from angel investors in order to make the move.
Jim Stice, part of the Aruna Biomedical management team, declined to say how much the company is hoping to raise, but said the move is not a done deal. “I think it’s still a decision in the balance,” Stice said. “It’s a difficult decision for a small company.”
Aruna, currently housed in a business incubator on the University of Georgia campus, has the equivalent of four full-time employees. They include Steven Stice, brother of Jim, a Georgia professor who founded the company and serves as its chief executive officer. Steven Stice is director of the university’s Regenerative Bioscience Center.
If a deal can be reached, Aruna would be the second stem cell company lured to Wisconsin. In December, the state announced that CellCura, a Norwegian biotechnology and stem cell research company, would open an office in Madison’s University Research Park.
Stem cell synergy
Aruna is a licensee of the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation for its human embryonic stem cell technology, and Jim Stice said the company would like to relocate to Wisconsin to take advantage of stem cell research synergies offered by the University of Wisconsin-Madison. They include what Stice called the “general environment for recruiting and management for life science products.”
Stice added that part of the company’s research activity, which takes place in his brother’s lab, would remain in Georgia.
Aruna is working with the Wisconsin Department of Commerce to facilitate a move, and while he declined to divulge the amount, Stice confirmed the department has committed to a package of grant-and-loan provisions.
Tony Hozeny, a spokesman for the Department of Commerce, said the department does not comment on packages that might be on the table.
Meanwhile, 15 angel investors that are part of Wisconsin Investment Partners, a life-science oriented angel network, have expressed an interest in supporting the company’s relocation, according to Dick Leazer, a principal in Wisconsin Investment Partners.
“We typically give about $250,000 to our companies,” Leazer said.
Aruna also has entered into a technology licensing agreement with the University of Georgia Research Foundation to commercialize technology developed at the university.
The company has developed a method to derive neural progenitor cells from human embryonic stem cells, enabling it to produce kits containing neural progenitors and the reagents needed to both proliferate and differentiate them into cultures of neural cells.
The cells and proliferation media are used by biomedical researchers looking to develop therapies for neurological diseases and spinal cord injuries.
Stice said the first-generation product is sold primarily to neurobiologists in academic and industrial settings, but second-generation versions will be more focused on the pharmaceutical-drug market.
In addition to his role with Aruna Biomedical, Jim Stice is the chief executive of Twin Star Medical, a Minneapolis-based maker of drug delivery and wound care medical devices.
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