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Midwestern Virtues

Although California’s $3 billion Proposition 71 windfall is on everyone’s mind, stem cell companies are springing up in other states. Last April, James Thomson and Timothy Kamp started Cellular Dynamics International (CDI) in Madison, Wis. A pioneer in the field, Thomson was the first to derive and culture human ES cells back in 1998.

Rather than develop cell therapies, CDI is attempting to capitalize on a more immediate use for ES cells. Human cells are difficult to culture and are often impractical to use in screening drug candidates. Thomson and Kamp have developed a technique to reliably direct human ES cells to differentiate into heart cells (cardiomyocytes). The company’s first lines of screening services will focus on testing cardiac safety.

CDI is a long way from California, but it has still managed to drum up significant funding. In September, the State of Wisconsin awarded CDI $2 million in technology development grants and loans.

Another interesting Midwestern company is Aastrom Biosciences, located in Ann Arbor, Mich. Aastrom is developing patient-specific products for the repair or regeneration of human tissues, using its proprietary Tissue Repair Cells (TRCs), a mix of bone marrow-derived adult stem and progenitor cells manufactured in the company’s patented automated cell production system.

First, bone marrow is taken from a patient. Then, through a 12-day process, Aastrom expands the stem cells so that they can be returned to the same donor. “What is attractive is that there is no risk for immunorejection,” says Martin C. Peters, senior director, marketing and business development. “Our manufacturing model has the variables associated with generating a cell product taken out of the equation.”

While stem cells will never be like aspirin, says Peters, the costs can be greatly reduced by having centralized manufacturing facilities and a streamlined production process. In October, Aastrom announced the start of its first clinical trial utilizing TRCs to treat limb ischemia in diabetic patients at a medical center in Bad Oeynhausen, Germany.     -- M.M.

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