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Emulating the lung
September 2015
by Lloyd Dunlap  |  Email the author
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CAMBRIDGE, U.K.—DefiniGEN Ltd., a  provider of stem cell life-sciences products and services, has strengthened its intellectual property portfolio with a license for cutting-edge lung stem cell technology from the University of Cambridge. The technology will be used by DefiniGEN to develop new, optimized cell products and services for drug discovery and the study of lung diseases, including cystic fibrosis.
 
The technology, licensed to DefiniGEN by Cambridge Enterprise, the commercialization arm of the University of Cambridge, uses induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS cells or ISPCs), to recreate embryonic lung development in the lab by activating a process known as gastrulation, in which the cells form distinct layers, from which the lung “grows.” Uniquely, the technology enables these cells to develop further, into distal airway tissue. The distal airway is the part of the lung responsible for gas exchange and is often implicated in disease, such as cystic fibrosis, some forms of lung cancer and emphysema.
 
“This license enables us to use stem cells to grow highly functional lung cells on an industrial scale for the first time,” said Dr. Marcus Yeo, CEO of DefiniGEN, with regard to the announcement. “These cell products can then help researchers to elucidate key mechanisms of disease and enable pharmaceutical companies to screen for potential drugs in a reproducible and cost-effective way.”
 
DefiniGEN is focused on serving the growing need in the pharmaceutical industry for more accurate predictions of efficacy and toxicity in drug candidates ahead of clinical trials. Its platform technology is OptiDIFF, a stem cell production platform for the generation of high- functionality cell types—among them liver, pancreas and lung cells. These cells can be used as predictive in-vitro models to support the development of safer and more effective pharmaceutical and biotech therapies. In addition, the technology platform utilizes fully defined and humanized conditions required for the development of regenerative medicine cellular therapies.
 
Since its inception in April 2012, DefiniGEN has moved rapidly into commercializing its products and services in both the academic research and pharmaceutical sectors on an international basis. DefiniGEN was originally founded to commercialize OptiDIFF, which was developed at the University of Cambridge. The company has since gained notable expertise in the area of iPSC-derived human cell production and metabolic disease modeling.
 
In other recent company news, DefiniGEN and Horizon Discovery Group plc, a global life-sciences company supplying research tools and services that power genomics research and the development of personalized medicines, announced in June their collaboration to develop a range of unique, gene-engineered iPS-based cell lines for use in research.
 
Under the terms of the agreement, Horizon will perform genome engineering on the iPS cells, which will then be differentiated by DefiniGEN. The project will initially focus on the generation of 10 iPS-based cell lines for research in areas that currently lack high-quality disease models. The resulting cell lines will be cultured, differentiated and quality-controlled by DefiniGEN to ensure that scientists receive uniform cell populations suited to their experiments, alongside an isogenic control. The cell line reagents will be available through DefiniGEN and co-marketed by Horizon.
 
The partnership, formed to enable customers to exploit the power of genome editing in iPS cells, is made possible through Horizon’s deep expertise in gene editing and DefiniGEN’s iPSC-derived human cell production and metabolic disease-modeling capabilities.
 
At the time, Dr. Paul Morrill, president of the Products Business division of Horizon, said: “Genome editing is now being applied to the generation of iPS disease models, creating an entirely new suite of research tools, enabling customers to ask important biological questions that were not easily addressed previously. We look forward to partnering with DefiniGEN on this project and developing a powerful suite of new tools.”
 
Yeo added: “These next-generation iPS cell products will help to improve the efficiency and economics of drug development, and enable the underlying mechanisms of disease to be elucidated in a manner that has previously not been possible.”
 
Code: E091528

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