LINCOLN, R.I.—MultiCell Technologies Inc., will leverage its human hepatocyte line and associated products by developing therapeutics on its own through a new majority-owned subsidiary, Monticello Immunotherapeutics Inc. In conjunction with the formation of Monticello, MultiCell recently acquired the intellectual property and equipment of Astral Inc., a San Diego-based biotechnology company that focuses on the development of novel therapies for the treatment of type 1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis, cancer and infectious disease.
Stephen Chang, president of MultiCell and CEO of Monticello, says moving toward therapeutics should "bring the value chain up" and strengthen the company by using MultiCell's core technology and platform to validate targets for Monticello and to produce novel proteins. Chang sees tremendous value in MultiCell's hepatocytes because "the drug industry would love to move from animal-based to human-based cell systems… we have never abandoned our core strategy of developing novel cells."
MultiCell CEO Jerry Newmin says developing a line of hepatocytes was attractive to the company because they are needed for drug discovery research and their use doesn't require U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval. Licensing provided a way to validate the cells and generate revenues.
The company's platform technology originally involved "immortalization of human hepatocytes," says MultiCell's senior vice president and CSO Ron Faris, but "more recently, we and others are working on evaluating the immortalized cells for toxicity assays."
MultiCell will now branch into new areas, says Faris, including investigating how adult liver stem cells differentiate into hepatocytes, eliminating the need for immortalization. "The other area that we're looking at is other stem cell-based technologies—cardiomyocyte stem cells—with the idea that the initial application in the stem cell is going to be drug discovery before therapeutics."