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Companies create ‘road atlas’ of human biology
June 2012
by Lloyd Dunlap  |  Email the author


ALAMEDA, Calif.—A method by which to manufacture purified and identified stem cells and the need for a "road atlas" for the complex branching tree of stem cells' progeny are goals highlighted by BioTime's recent acquisition of XenneX Inc.  
BioTime will acquire XenneX through a merger of XenneX into BioTime's subsidiary LifeMap Sciences. Through the merger, XenneX stockholders will receive approximately 1,362,589 shares of LifeMap common stock, which will represent approximately 13 percent of LifeMap's common stock outstanding upon the closing of the transaction. XenneX shareholders will also receive approximately 448,430 BioTime common shares as part of the transaction. The acquisition is expected to close this month.  
LifeMap is in the process of developing a web-based database that will aid scientists in their research and product development efforts in the stem cells field, using embryonic stem cells, progenitor cells, induced pluripotent stem cells and other relevant cells. The database will permit users to follow the cellular ontology of embryonic development, from the zygote to the progenitor cells and cell lineages, leading to developed organs. It will provide access to available cell-related information and resources necessary to improve stem cell research and development of therapeutics based on regenerative medicine.  
XenneX will contribute its GeneCards and PanDaTox databases for which it holds the exclusive, worldwide marketing licenses. GeneCards is a searchable, integrated database of human genes that provides concise genomic, transcriptomic, genetic, proteomic, functional and disease-related information on all known and predicted human genes. PanDaTox is a recently developed, searchable database that can be used to identify genes and intergenic regions that are unclonable in E. coli, to aid in the discovery of new antibiotics and biotechnologically beneficial functional genes and to improve the efficiency of metabolic engineering. GeneCards and PanDaTox are marketed by XenneX under a license from Yeda Research and Development Company Ltd., the technology transfer company of the Weizmann Institute.  
LifeMap's team of scientists is building an integrated map of the thousands of cell types in human development, beginning with the fertilized egg and ending in the developed human. Combined with genomics information, the database is expected to become a "road atlas" of human biology benefiting medicine and research.  
"We believe that centralized online databases of biological knowledge will become indispensable tools for research in the field of regenerative medicine," says Dr. Michael D. West, BioTime's CEO. "The rising standards for identity and purity in the development of stem cell therapeutics necessitate an international consensus on cell markers, and building the database is one component of BioTime's strategy to lead in this emerging field of medicine while capturing near-term revenue."  
Dr. David Warshawsky, LifeMap Sciences' CEO—who also founded XenneX in 2003 and serves as its chairman—adds, "LifeMap has made great progress with the LifeMap database and discovery platform, and we see GeneCards, MalaCards and PanDaTox as a perfect fit for making LifeMap the leading source of online database research tools for genetic, biological and stem cell research and development."  
In recent testimony before the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), West noted that, "Human embryonic stem cells and related induced pluripotent stem cells are promising because of their ability to differentiate into all of the complex cell types in the human body. However, this is also their greatest challenge. They make all of the cell types in the human body. This logically leads to the manufacturing conundrum of how do we manufacture purified and identified cell types when thousands of diverse cell types emerge from these cultures."  
BioTime has benefited from a $4.7 million grant from the CIRM to further the development of ACTCellerate, a novel manufacturing technology allowing the scalable manufacture of more than 200 diverse highly purified cell types. This advance has highlighted the urgent need for a "road atlas" for this complex branching tree from pluripotent stem cells.  
Currently, for all the thousands of cell types that emerge from pluripotent stem cells, little to no information is available in an organized form for the scientific community to help identify the cells (i.e., where the scientist is on the road from pluripotent stem cells to the final desired cell type). As a result, to meet the rigorous standards of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in regard to purity and identity, companies have found themselves paddling upstream against the very difficult challenge of identifying the cells contaminating their potential products.  
"Similar to the foundational impact that the mapping of the genome had on science and medicine, the mapping of the 'embryome' would lay a broad and effective foundation for subsequent product development worldwide for decades to come," says West.
Code: E061209



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