Wednesday, June 25, 2014

California Stem Cell Agency Cites "Real Progress" on Calimmune's HIV Clinical Trial

The California stem cell agency this morning announced that one of its early stage clinical trials has produced “encouraging safety data” in its search for a therapy that could eradicate AIDS.

The agency said in a press release the trial will now move forward to its next stage which will focus on efficacy. The gene-based therapy, dubbed Cal-1, was developed by Calimmune of Tucson, Az.

Randy Mills, president of the stem cell agency, said,
“While still early in clinical development this announcement demonstrates real progress towards this mission. The accomplishments of Calimmune’s team is a great example of how CIRM partnerships are working to impact patient’s lives today.”
Louis Breton, CEO of Calimmune, said that the safety benchmark achievement “is an important step in bringing this potential one-time therapy to the patients, and takes us closer to our ultimate goal of eradicating AIDS." (Here is the company press release.)

Kevin McCormack, senior director for public communications for the agency, said in an agency blog item that the therapy “takes blood stem cells from people who are HIV-positive, genetically modifies them so they carry a gene that blocks the AIDS virus from infecting cells, and then re-introduces the modified cells to the patient. The hope is that those stem cells will then create a new blood system that is resistant to HIV.”

Calimmune has a powerful scientific pedigree. Nobel Laureate David Baltimore, one of the firm’s founders, is chairman of the Calimmune board. He also once served on the governing board of the stem cell agency, formally known as the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM).

The Calimmune Web site says that the company was formed in 2007 around stem cell technology discovered in the labs of Baltimore, while he was at Caltech, and Irvin Chen at the UCLA AIDS Institute in early 2000.  Delaware state records show that the firm was incorporated in 2006.

Baltimore served on the CIRM board from 2004 until June 6, 2007. He resigned from the agency board about 18 months before the application process began for the grant round that ultimately funded Calimmune. 

In addition to Baltimore, another member of the the Calimmune board is Harry George, managing general partner of Solstice Capital, whose Tuscon’s office shares the same address as Calimmune.

The trial, which is taking place in San Francisco and Los Angeles, is partly funded by CIRM, which has awarded Calimmune $8.3 million. Originally, the Calimmune research was part of a $20 million disease team grant involving UCLA. That was split, however. CIRM now lists the original award as a closed, $9.9 million grant shared by Calimmune  and UCLA.

Calimmune and the stem cell agency discussed the therapy at today's session of BIO2014 in San Diego, which is attended by about 15,000 persons in the biotech industry.

Here is a copy of the Calimmune contract with the stem cell agency. 

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