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Athersys still excited about Pfizer stem cell collaboration

Updated 2:49 p.m., May 7, 2010. Biopharmaceutical company Athersys Inc. (NASDAQ: ATHX) is excited to be working with Pfizer Regenerative Medicine on a stem cell treatment for inflammatory bowel disease. But you’ll have to attend the Cleveland company’s 2010 investor and research & development day in New York City on May 14 to find out […]

Updated 2:49 p.m., May 7, 2010.

Biopharmaceutical company Athersys Inc. (NASDAQ: ATHX) is excited to be working with Pfizer Regenerative Medicine on a stem cell treatment for inflammatory bowel disease.

But you’ll have to attend the Cleveland company’s 2010 investor and research & development day in New York City on May 14 to find out why.

Ruth McKernan, chief scientific officer at the regenerative medicine unit of the world’s biggest drug company, “will have some comments to make at the event next week,” Gil Van Bokkelen, chairman and chief executive of Athersys told a research analyst during the company’s first quarter conference call Thursday.

“The policy that we have implemented with Pfizer … we don’t want to talk a lot about the specifics of what we’re doing with them right now other than to say we believe we can leverage a lot of the work we’ve already done in various areas,” Van Bokkelen said, dancing around the analyst’s question.

“We’ve spent a lot of time exploring the potential utility and trying to understand mechanisms of action of MultiStem in immune system modulation. We are going to be talking about specific examples of that next week.”

MultiStem is the adult stem cell therapy being developed by Athersys to treat not only bowel disease, but heart attack, bone marrow transplant rejection and other side effects of cancer treatment and stroke. Athersys also is developing drugs to treat obesity and cognitive disorders.

The company said Thursday it’s making progress as usual with the Pfizer unit, as well as on clinical trials of MultiStem to treat heart attack and bone marrow transplant and cancer patients. It’s received approval from the independent safety committee on the bone marrow transplant study to jump ahead. And it’s still designing the study for stroke patients.

Athersys narrowed its first-quarter loss to $2.6 million, or 14 cents a diluted share, compared with a loss of $3.6 million, or 19 cents a diluted share, a year ago. Revenue jumped to $1.7 million — largely because of the Pfizer Regenerative Medicine partnership, which began in December — from $370,000 a year ago.

The company had cash and cash equivalents of $22.5 million on March 31. That’s enough to keep it operating through 2011, barring additional financing, B.J. Lehmann, president and chief operating officer, told analysts on their conference call.

Athersys has gone down parallel paths to leverage its research and financial resources, Van Bokkelen told analysts in March. The company has developed a network of collaborations among investigators in the United States and Europe, and it has looked to partner with companies that would help shoulder development costs.

The company has partnered with Angiotech Pharmaceuticals, a Canadian drug company, on its study of MultiStem to treat heart attack patients. Presumably, it’s still looking for a development partner for its MultiStem stroke study.

While looking for development partners, Athersys has continued its research on drugs that fight obesity and neurological disorders by targeting a certain brain receptor while not activating other receptors that cause life-threatening side effects. More than a year ago, Athersys shelved development of its ATHX-105 obesity drug because it couldn’t find a development partner.

The company’s shares lost 29 cents on the Nasdaq Stock Market Thursday to close at $2.96. Its shares hit a high of $5.55 in the days following the company’s announcement of the Pfizer Regenerative Medicine collaboration.