Plasticell to join Pfizer and University of Sheffield in a stem cell project led by Cellzome

Project will develop methods of characterizing stem cells through “protein fingerprints” that are said to be predictive of changes in stem cell behavior

Jeffrey Bouley
LONDON—Plasticell, a biotechnologycompany specializing in high-throughput technologies for directedstem cell differentiation, recently announced it will becollaborating with Pfizer (through its Neusentis division) and theUniversity 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 changesin stem cell behavior.

It was in early December 2011 thatCellzome announced it had been awarded a grant by the United Kingdomgovernment-backed Technology Strategy Board under its Regenerative
Medicine Programme called "Tools andTechnologies" 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 periodof two years, and was the third grant awarded in 2011 year thatleveraged, as Cellzome out it, its "unique position in chemoproteomics" in support of thecompany's "innovative approaches to drug discovery."

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

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

As for the latest grant-funded effortvia the Technology Strategy Board, Dennis Saw, CEO of Plasticell,says, "We are pleased to be able to contribute our longstandingexpertise in directed differentiation of stem cells to thismultidisciplinary team comprising leading groups in the field. Theresearch will address a critical issue in human stem cell research,with downstream applications in regenerative medicine and cellulartherapies."

Plasticell specializes in usingmassively parallel screens to differentiate stem cells, and itsproprietary technology, Combinatorial Cell Culture (or CombiCult),allows testing of cell culture variables in millions of randomcombinations to discover optimal protocols for the differentiationand expansion of adult, and pluripotent stem cells. According toPlasticell, "Results are obtained rapidly at a fraction of the costof trial and error experimentation—each screen can produce manydozens of protocols which are ranked by optimality by powerfulproprietary bioinformatics." In addition to discovering optimizedstem cell differentiation protocols, CombiCult can be used to producehigh-value cell types and custom media for drug development and celltherapy applications, improving yields and decreasing cost of goodsfor bio-processing.

Leading up to the collaborationannounced this month, Plasticell had several other important stemcell and regenerative medicine announcements in 2011, including thedecision to undergo a strategic re-structuring so that it could focusmore on the CombiCult technology. In that effort, the companyde-merged its regenerative drug discovery unit into a newlyestablished company, Progenitor Labs Limited.

Also, in 2011, just under a year ago,Plasticell completed a £3.5 million financing round, announced inJune that it had won the prestigious R&D 100 Award for itsCombiCult v2.0 system and in August announced the completion of acollaboration with Stemnion Inc. In the collaboration withPittsburgh-based biotech Stemnion, Plasticell used its flagshipCombiCult technology to discover multiple novel, serum-free protocolsthat direct the differentiation of Stemnion's stem cells intohard-to-obtain lineages. The protocols were ranked using Plasticell'sAriadne bioinformatics software and subsequently validated byStemnion scientists.
 

Jeffrey Bouley

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