Cell Targeting hopes to bring purpose to stem cell therapy

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stem cells cell therapy Cell Targeting ClevelandCLEVELAND, Ohio –  Joseph Wagner sees most cell-therapy companies offering little more than a bag of cells.

His company will give the bag a little direction.

Cell Targeting is developing technology that can point stem cell therapies to specific areas of the body. Among the many challenges in cell therapy is direction: not enough of the stem cells are getting to the tissues that needs treatment.

Cell Targeting’s approach could cut costs: directed cell therapies mean smaller dosages, which allows for a lower price. But Wagner wants to sell companies (and investors) on the idea that Cell Targeting’s approach can create new products.

Currently a stem cell therapy can help different parts of the body. That attracts more customers, but doesn’t do much when the company wants to differentiate its product and charge a different price.

A stem cell therapy tweaked by Cell Targeting can become unique because it can be directed to different areas of the body to treat different afflictions, Wagner said.

“We make them distinct by our delivery,” Wagner said. “We have the ability to make those bags of cells into unique cell-therapy products.”

Cell Targeting’s product is a peptide, a tiny piece of protein, that coats stem cells and guides them to damaged tissue. The coating peels away like paint after it gets to its target and allows the therapy to do its work.

The technology is based off research from Case Western Reserve University researchers Arnold Caplan and James Dennis. The company’s initial focus is in cardiovascular therapies.

Cell Targeting recently landed a research grant from the state and moved into a larger facility in the city’s BioEnterprise building in preparation for expanding staff and research. It has completed two proof-of-concept studies and will finish a third by year’s end.

Wagner is planning investor meetings starting late this year or early next to raise as much as $11 million to fund manufacturing preparations, toxicology testing and interactions with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

“We want to use that money to position us to be viable partner for a cell-therapy company,” Wagner said.

Cell Targeting won’t do clinical trials for its product. Instead it would go through testing along with the cell therapy its assisting.

“Once cell-therapy companies get done with the first version of their products, we’ll be ready to help them with their  second version,” Wagner said.

Wagner was the company’s most recent milestone. He was hired as chief technology officer in January through a $1 million investment by Toucan Capital and now essentially runs the day-to-day of the business. For the previous seven years, he worked as the vice president of cellular therapy at Neuronyx in Philadelphia, where he oversaw a clinical trial for a cellular therapy aimed at treating heart attack patients.

“I’ve seen what cell therapy companies need,” he said, explaining why he joined Cell Targeting.

Such a solution — if it works — would help address one of several major problems with cell therapy, said Dr. Stanton Gerson, director of University Hospitals’ Ireland Cancer Center and the director of the NCI Case Comprehensive Cancer Center at Case Western Reserve University. “Right now it’s totally hit or miss,” Gerson said. “We’re having trouble generating the affect we know we want to accomplish. The cell therapy field is not as successful as all of us want it to be.”

But Cell Targeting’s biggest competitor may be science itself and the research underway to better understand how stem cells work. It’s likely that stem cells on their own can find their way “home” to specific tissues, Gerson said.

“We just don’t know what those Velcro connections are,” Gerson said.

Wagner said the idea that stem cells head home is a bit of “voodoo.” Only a single-digit percentage of cells return to their point of origin — and there’s no evidence they return in a larger percentage to damaged tissues, he said. Also, Wagner pointed out that in many cases, cell therapy companies don’t want stem cells to go “home” but instead to another tissue that the stem cell can also heal.

Another potential challenge for companies like Cell Targeting is that they won’t know the final cost to develop their product until they reach talks with the FDA. Cell Targeting could make the case its product is a medical device. But there’s also the possibility regulators view it as a drug.

“We have not had the regulatory discussions yet,” Wagner said.

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Chris Seper

By Chris Seper MedCity News

Chris Seper runs MedCityNews.com and contributes regularly to the site. He is the vice president of healthcare for Breaking Media, MedCity's corporate owners. Reach him at [email protected]
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