Athersys gets U.S., European patents for investigational stem cell therapy

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Updated 4:39 p.m.

CLEVELAND, Ohio — Biopharmaceutical company Athersys Inc. has received two patents that extend protection of its investigational stem cell therapy and how it is produced and used.

Athersys said Wednesday it has been granted U.S. patent 7,659,118, which covers its non-embryonic, multipotent stem cells and how they are isolated, expanded, made into a therapy and used. The Cleveland company also received EP1218489B1, a European patent that covers its pluripotent stem cells and how they are produced and used.

The patents cover the company’s MultiStem technology, which is an investigational stem cell therapy that has demonstrated therapeutic potential to treat a range of problems, including heart attack, stroke, bone marrow transplant rejection and inflammatory bowel disease.

Athersys made  headlines in December for striking a development and marketing agreement with Pfizer Regenerative Medicine for a stem cell therapy to treat patients who suffer from inflammatory bowel disease.

“MultiStem is an innovative biologic product that is manufactured from human stem cells obtained from adult bone marrow or other non-embryonic tissue sources,” President and CEO Gil Van Bokkelen said at the time. “MultiStem has the potential to deliver therapeutic benefit in several ways, such as the reduction of inflammation, protection of damaged or injured tissue and the formation of new blood vessels.”

Unlike traditional stem cell therapies that aim to replace damaged tissue, MultiStem produces factors that regulate the immune system, protect damaged or injured cells and promote tissue repair and healing, giving the therapy a more drug-like effect, Van Bokkelen said.

The two patents add to the breadth and depth of Athersys’ intellectual property portfolio, said William “B.J.” Lehmann, the company’s president and chief operating officer. The patents are especially important because they cover how the stem cell therapy is made and used, Lehmann said.

Athersys has 14 granted patents and more than 120 global patent applications around its stem cell technology and MultiStem product platform, the company said. The patent portfolio could protect Athersys intellectual property through as late as 2028.

A strong IP portfolio also could help Athersys land development partners.  For years, the company has invested its development dollars in stages, trying to make its cash stretch to cover products like MultiStem, as well as drug candidates the company discovers through a proprietary technology.

Though a Pfizer unit is helping Athersys develop MultiStem for inflammatory bowel disease sufferers, the company still is looking for partners to develop MultiStem for heart attack and stroke victims, as well as leukemia patients who have rejected bone marrow treatments.

“I think it’s going to help over time,” Lehmann said. “A stronger IP portfolio is going to create better opportunities for us to  partner, over time.”

Athersys shares rose 14 percent to $3.29 Wednesday on the Nasdaq stock market. Athersys shares, which had been trading for about $1, shot up to a high of $5.55 on Dec. 22, a day after the Pfizer collaboration was announced.

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