Recommended weekend reading on stem cells & science

I try to catch up on my science reading over the weekends and evenings. Here’s my recommended weekend reading on stem cells & science.

Did I miss anything especially cool? Let me know in the comments.

Direct reprogramming of skin cells into insulin-producing cells. I love direct reprogramming.

Healios and Athersys Enter Into Regenerative Medicine Partnership. Can they together create regen med success?

National honor for helping “the blind see” comes from CIRM blog.

human animal chimeras

Fun piece on CRISPR language by Ben Zimmer. ‘Crispr’ Breaks Out Of the Lab. If you don’t know what a backronym is, you should be interested in learning more.

Big claims here for zero off targets for a next gen CRISPR system. Zero is a very small number, eh?

The gut microbiome of the 5,000 year old frozen dude turn out to be a goldmine of sorts of info. Nice piece by Carl Zimmer, Ben’s brother. OK, what did these two brothers who are unusually great writers eat while growing up? Wheaties? 

George Church on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. Wonder what Letterman would think of George’s Top 10 List for genes with interesting phenotypes in humans? See my interview with Church for that list and a lot more interesting perspectives.

Human-animal chimeras, Antonio Regalado, tells us in a nifty article are currently gestating on farms (image above from that piece).

Ed Yong writes that CRISPR’s most exciting applications are in gene transcriptional regulation (admittedly a cool area) rather than in genetic modification. Great piece, but I disagree with the superlative.

Stem cell predictions top 20 list for 2016

Stem Cell PredictionsWhat will the new year have in store for stem cells?

2016 promises to have many striking stem cell developments. Below are my top 20 stem cell predictions for what is to come this year in no particular order. Share your stem cell tea leaves in the comments please.

  1. Another stem cell biotech acquisition by pharma (recall Ocata (almost now finally sold) & CDI in 2015).
  2. Charging patients for clinical trial participation, particularly in Japan due to the new policy and here in the US related to predatory clinics, remains a hot topic
  3. Stem cell clinics and doping in sports flares up more
  4. Organoids continue to excite
  5. Bioheart and some other small stem cell companies struggle
  6. Stem cell stocks overall have a bad year
  7. Stem cell clinics ever more aggressively use celeb clients for PR and marketing Why? It is powerful, effective, and essentially free advertising
  8. More news on human-animal chimeras
  9. FDA continues its slow-go approach to action on stem cell clinics/unapproved stem cell products
  10. Pressure from industry and some academics on FDA to not regulate adipose products as drugs and/or to not enforce some other draft guidances including at the upcoming public hearing on the draft guidances
  11. FDA receives increasing public criticism for “slowness” on approving new stem cell therapies including from beyond the stem cell clinic industry
  12. One or more lawsuits against a stem cell clinic
  13. A new stem cell scandal pops up related to publication issues
  14. Some hiccups on mitochondrial transfer/3-person IVF in the UK or China
  15. The trend last year of increasingly blurred lines between legit research entities such as universities and dubious stem cell enterprises continues. This is worrisome.
  16. Stem cell-derived human germ cells stay in the headlines. This has exciting potential for providing new windows into human development and tackling infertility, but also raises thorny issues such as human genetic modification
  17. ViaCyte has some big news
  18. High-profile developments on veterinary use of stem cells
  19. Animal cloning, particularly in China, continues to proliferate
  20. More rumblings on possible human reproductive cloning attempts

Disclaimer: This post is not meant as financial advice. Consult an expert before making financial decisions.

New biotech Semma Therapeutics joins ViaCyte & Betalogics in stem cell Diabetes arena

Semma Therapeutics

Semma’s technology director Felicia Pagliuca, with CEO Robert Millman. Boston Globe Picture

A new biotech startup, Semma Therapeutics, announced that it seeks to fight diabetes via translating technology from the lab of Doug Melton at Harvard to the clinic.

Another major player in cell therapy-based arena for Diabetes is most likely good news for patients.

Quoted in the Boston Globe, there is a good deal of enthusiasm about the potential of this kind of therapeutic approach:

“This would be a huge breakthrough,” said Dr. George L. King, a Harvard Medical School professor and research director at Joslin Diabetes Center. “It could cure diabetes.”

Semma TherapeuticsSemma will have to compete with ViaCyte and Betalogics, which could prove challenging given, for example, that ViaCyte already has an ongoing FDA-approved clinical trial. Still Semma has raised more than $40 million, which is a good start, and this capital came from some known bio-investment players:

“Sensing a business opportunity at the juncture of stem cells and diabetes, venture firms MPM Capital, Fidelity Biosciences of Cambridge, and Arch Venture Partners of Chicago are teaming with Minneapolis-based medical technology giant Medtronic plc to back Semma in the company’s first round of financing.”

Two of the leaders of Semma are former Melton lab postdoc Felicia Pagliuca, and CEO Robert Millman. Pagliuca was first author on a high-profile Melton lab paper in Cell published just about half a year ago and post-pub reviewed on this blog.

The Semma website has more information.

Why the name Semma?

I’m not sure.

There is a SEMMA acronym in high-tech:

Sample, Explore, Modify, Model, Assess.

It’ll be exciting to see how Semma performs and more broadly how cell therapy-based approaches to Diabetes evolve. I view Semma coming on the scene as a positive.

Viacyte & Mesoblast present at CIRM Meeting

Allan Robins ViacyteAllan Robins of Viacyte (pictured at left–sorry for the fuzzy image) and Paul Simmons of Mesoblast presented this morning at the CIRM Grantee Meeting.

Both talks were outstanding.

Robins went first. He started by saying how Viacyte had a productive pre-IND meeting with the FDA last year.

I believe a target for them is to have IND in Q1 of 2014 and hopefully move to the clinical trials soon after.

I gotta say I love Viacyte’s technology. Having a frozen product that then can be recovered in culture for 3 days before loading into the capsule seems like a big plus.

Simmons also gave an interesting talk on Mesoblast’s status. Quite impressive.

I find it astounding just how big their pipeline is. They have perhaps as many as 10 products. They also have an impressive number of trials already ongoing based on allogeneic off-the-shelf products based on mesenchymal progenitor cells (MPCs).

Simmons posed a hypothetical question that people sometimes ask the company related to trophic factors made by MPCs, “Why don’t you just use the trophic factors that are secreted as the therapy”. Simmons’ reply was both humorous and encouraging, “These cells are quite intelligent!”

MPCs secrete just the right combo of factors as instructed by a given environment.

Both talks were great and I think these companies have strong potential to help thousands of patients within a decade.

Disclosure: I am not an investor in either company nor currently any company in the stem cell field.