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Plasticell to join Pfizer and University of Sheffield in a stem cell project led by Cellzome
by Jeffrey Bouley  |  Email the author


LONDON—Plasticell, a biotechnology company specializing in high- throughput technologies for directed stem cell differentiation, recently announced it will be collaborating with Pfizer (through its Neusentis division) and the University of Sheffield in a research consortium lead by Cellzome. The project will develop methods of characterizing stem cells through "protein fingerprints" that are said to be predictive of changes in stem cell behavior.

It was in early December 2011 that Cellzome announced it had been awarded a grant by the United Kingdom government-backed Technology Strategy Board under its Regenerative
Medicine Programme called "Tools and Technologies" for a project which will address the need for better characterization of human stem cells. The project's funding was set at just under £1 million over a period of two years, and was the third grant awarded in 2011 year that leveraged, as Cellzome out it, its "unique position in chemoproteomics" in support of the company's "innovative approaches to drug discovery."

In addition to the Technology Strategy Board grant, Cellzome is putting its Episphere technology to work in BLUEPRINT, one of Europe's largest efforts to decipher epigenomes of the haematopoietic system, and Cellzome will apply its technology to the identification of multiple drug candidates. This program will be delivered by an outstanding network of academic and biotech partners and Cellzome will receive €1.2 million in funding for that work. As part of a separate EU-funded project, known as ORCHID, Cellzome will contribute to the identification of new treatments for tuberculosis using chemoproteomics. Both EU grants were awarded as part of the EU 7th Framework Programme.

"The consortia which are funded by these grants are of a high calibre, and they are made up from leaders in their respective fields," said David Simmons, chief scientific officer of Cellzome, in 2011. "They provide an excellent opportunity for Cellzome to explore new avenues for our chemoproteomics platform. Cellzome's technology is ideally placed to unravel some of the basic regulatory pathways in health and disease and it will contribute to the identification of a new generation of drug candidates for autoimmune disorders and cancer."

As for the latest grant- funded effort via the Technology Strategy Board, Dennis Saw, CEO of Plasticell, says, "We are pleased to be able to contribute our longstanding expertise in directed differentiation of stem cells to this multidisciplinary team comprising leading groups in the field. The research will address a critical issue in human stem cell research, with downstream applications in regenerative medicine and cellular therapies."

Plasticell specializes in using massively parallel screens to differentiate stem cells, and its proprietary technology, Combinatorial Cell Culture (or CombiCult), allows testing of cell culture variables in millions of random combinations to discover optimal protocols for the differentiation and expansion of adult, and pluripotent stem cells. According to Plasticell, "Results are obtained rapidly at a fraction of the cost of trial and error experimentation—each screen can produce many dozens of protocols which are ranked by optimality by powerful proprietary bioinformatics." In addition to discovering optimized stem cell differentiation protocols, CombiCult can be used to produce high-value cell types and custom media for drug development and cell therapy applications, improving yields and decreasing cost of goods for bio-processing.

Leading up to the collaboration announced this month, Plasticell had several other important stem cell and regenerative medicine announcements in 2011, including the decision to undergo a strategic re-structuring so that it could focus more on the CombiCult technology. In that effort, the company de-merged its regenerative drug discovery unit into a newly established company, Progenitor Labs Limited.

Also, in 2011, just under a year ago, Plasticell completed a £3.5 million financing round, announced in June that it had won the prestigious R&D 100 Award for its CombiCult v2.0 system and in August announced the completion of a collaboration with Stemnion Inc. In the collaboration with Pittsburgh-based biotech Stemnion, Plasticell used its flagship CombiCult technology to discover multiple novel, serum-free protocols that direct the differentiation of Stemnion's stem cells into hard-to-obtain lineages. The protocols were ranked using Plasticell's Ariadne bioinformatics software and subsequently validated by Stemnion scientists.
Code: E01101201



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