29 Apr Stemina launches its first commercial product
MADISON – Madison start-up Stemina Biomarker Discovery Inc. has launched its first product, which uses human embryonic stem cells to screen drugs for their likelihood to cause birth defects.
The launch comes shortly after President Barack Obama lifted restrictions on stem cell research, opening up opportunities for companies like Stemina, which also this month launched its second round of financing.
The product, SteminaDevTox, can detect with a greater than 90 percent accuracy which drugs will cause birth defects in developing human embryos, said Stemina CEO and co-founder Beth Donley. The screen will reduce the cost of drug development, as well as discover important biomarkers associated with various diseases or injuries.
“Basically, we will take drug compounds dosed to human embryonic stem cells, conduct metabolomics, and report back to the drug company about the likelihood that the drug will cause birth defects,” Donley said.
These tests analyze whether drugs contain biomarkers that indicate a drug would likely cause birth defects. The screen used 25 compounds known to cause birth defects, such as Thalidomide, and ones that are known not to, such as penicillin.
Joe Hildebrandt managing director of the DaneVest tech fund and the DaneVest tech side fund, and co managing director of the Phenomenelle Angels fund, all of which invest in Stemina, said this product proves that the metabolomics technology works.
“It validates their theory on biomarkers and being able to identify different drugs,” Hildebrandt said. “This is an initial breakthrough which is going to lead to a number of very monumental scientific breakthroughs.”
Currently, researchers test rats and mice to detect which drugs would cause birth defects. But these tests are accurate 50 percent to 60 percent of the time, Donley said.
“This model that we’ve created, appears to be quite a bit more predictive,” Donley said. “We’ve actually just completed running a blind study to understand the percentage of predictability of our model and we were able to pick the birth defect causing drugs with greater than 95 percent accuracy.”
Stemina, founded in 2006 by Donley and University of Wisconsin-Madison professor Gabriela Cezar, has received interest for the screen by U.S. drug companies and organizations within Europe which must now comply with a new law regulating chemicals and their safe use. As a result, Stemina is considering co-locating a European facility to handle that business, and take advantage of possible grants there.
Stemina will make SteminaDevTox at its lab in University Research Park. “We’re actually growing our own (stem cells),” Donley said. “We’re growing three of the WiCell lines right now, so we’ll have those available to do the screen.”
The company also this month launched its second round of financing. It’s seeking $3 million in angel or high net worth investment to expand Stemina’s staff and to buy equipment to offer SteminaDevTox to clients. In addition to the Phenomenelle Angels Fund and DaneVest Captal, current investors include Wisconsin Investment Partners, as well as high net worth individuals.
Donley said the company would like to hire six people this year and early next year, nearly doubling Stemina’s current staff of eight people.
“I’m getting a pretty good response,” Donley said of early venture funding talks. “People are excited about Obama lifting restrictions on stem cell research.”