Stem cell patent partners

VistaGen-WARF agreement aims to grow use of human embryonic stem cells in drug development

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SOUTH SAN FRANCISCO, Calif.—VistaGen Therapeutics, a company that "from day one" has focused on stem cell technology as a potentially better research system for determining efficacy and safety in the drug development process, has signed a licensing agreement with the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF) covering human embryonic stem cell (hESC) patents. WARF is the private, non-profit patenting and licensing organization for the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Terms of the agreement between the privately held company and the non-profit technology transfer organization were not announced.

"VistaGen has spent the past 10 years in the effort to develop the best, most scaleable process for developing mature cells from human embryonic stem cells," says Dr. Ralph Snodgrass, the company's CEO. "This agreement will expedite the development and commercialization of our stem cell-based research tools.

"Our hESC technologies provide predictive heart and liver cell assay systems that address the limitations of current biological systems and focus on the two most relevant cell types for pharmaceutical toxicity testing," Snodgrass states. "This agreement means we can now provide differentiation protocols from WARF for using hESCs that, in turn, will assist pharmas and biotechs with predictive toxicology and drug discovery screening assays to increase preclinical R&D productivity."

Snodgrass notes that VistaGen is "focusing our hESC technologies for high-throughput drug discovery screens in the diabetes and neurological disease markets." The agreement with WARF, he adds, "is another critical step in our strategy to become a 'one-stop-shop' for the world's premier stem cell differentiation systems. It enhances our fundamental expertise for capturing the value of human embryonic stem cell biology for predictive toxicology, drug discovery screening and drug development. When combined with our strong stem cell-based intellectual property estate, the key terms of the new license provide a strong foundation to support our commercial programs focused on high-end R&D services, strategic discovery collaborations and enabling licenses."

In addition to its agreement with WARF, VistaGen sponsors research in Japan, Canada, and the U.K.—all with the common theme of enhancing R&D productivity in the pharmaceutical industry with "clinically relevant, commercially scalable, human biology-based screening systems to increase the efficiency of identifying effective drug candidates and reduce clinical trial failures, especially failures due to heart or liver toxicity," Snodgrass says. He points to VistaGen's alliance with Capsant in the United Kingdom as an example of one ongoing strategic research agreement.

Capsant is developing a novel in vitro tissue testing platform based on three-dimensional tissue engineered human or rodent 'organ-like' microdots formed onto a biochip for the purpose of multi-readout high-throughput drug screening. In comparison with traditional in vitro drug discovery technologies, this platform has the potential to select safer and more effective drugs, reducing the need for testing in animals. "We need this kind of 3-D platform," Dr. Snodgrass says, "for final mature differentiation and testing of human stem cells." DDN

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