ATHENS, Ga.—The world of biotech is certainly no stranger to promising claims, but nonetheless, Aruna Biomedical's pops off the printed page: "To our knowledge, there has never been a human neural cell product offered that was derived from human embryonic stem cells." Further, the company claims that their system can produce billions of neural progenitor/stem cells that will be of interest to tens of thousands of research scientists around the world.
For its part, under the terms of the licensing agreement, Millipore will market and distribute Aruna's human neural progenitor (NP) cells and optimized media on an exclusive basis.
Asked about the potential market size for the company's product, Aruna co-founder and CEO Steven Stice says, simply, "Large."
Aruna was established in 2003 based on a licensing agreement with the University of Georgia where Dr. Stice's lab had done the development work on what was to become Aruna's first product offering. The company's objective is to develop and commercialize neural cells derived from the stem cell lines registered with the National Institutes of Health—that is, those approved for use by the federal government and therefore eligible for federally funded research. These NP cells can divide and create more cells, but also, under the right conditions, can be turned into many if not all of the cell types found in the nervous system. Because these NP cells continue to possess both the ability to divide and to differentiate, they continue to propagate indefinitely.
Aruna's NP cell products will be provided as "adherent monolayer human neural cells" which, Stice explains, lead to more consistent exposure to experimental conditions, easier monitoring, and produce more consistent research results than can be obtained from "neural spheres."
Research efficiency is another attribute Aruna claims for its NP cell line and related reagents. According to the company, the maintenance of human stem cells is difficult and costly, and the differentiation of such cells into nervous system cells time consuming. Aruna's products can reduce both the time and cost involved. More broad-based experimentation, it is hoped, will get more effective therapies to patients more quickly.
The agreement with Aruna advances Millipore's stated objective of "providing tools that accelerate stem cell research worldwide" in the words of the company's vice president, research reagents division Patrick Schneider. Late last year, Millipore and Stem Cell Sciences announced an exclusive license under which Millipore will develop and market SSC's serum-free media for the growth of human embryonic stem cells. At that time the company noted that it is "committed to being the most innovative supplier of products to the stem cell research market."
"The potential impact of this product on the neural research community could be astounding," comments Stice. It was this optimism that led him to name his company Aruna, the Sanskrit word for "new beginning." "By accelerating the pace of neurological research for tens of thousands of scientists, we hope to provide patients with possible therapies and treatments for debilitating neurological diseases and spinal cord injuries including Alzheimer's, spinal cord injury and depression sooner than imagined."