Thursday, August 09, 2018

ACT to Astellas: A 'Looping' Tale of the Stem Cell Industry and Research

Ever wonder what happened to Advanced Cell Technology, Inc. (ACT), the Massachusetts stem cell company that migrated -- with some considerable ballyhoo -- to California in the wake of the creation of the Golden State's $3 billion stem cell agency?

ACT landed in the San Francisco Bay area in 2006 with hopes of snagging millions from the agency, which had been created two years earlier. At one point in the company's life, Gov. Jerry Brown even approvingly toured the company's operation in Alameda. But little has been heard from the company in recent years.

Now comes UC Davis stem cell researcher and blogger Paul Knoepfler. Last week, he published a brief update on the doings of the company once known as ACT and its changing corporate identities.

Michael D. West, AgeX photo
But first a little more on ACT's history and the company's not-so-good times in California. It is a tale  that loops around Geron, Inc., which launched and then abandoned the first U.S. clinical trial involving human embryonic stem cells, and companies called
Asterias and BioTime. One thread that strings them all together is a stem cell pioneer named Michael D. West.

When ACT announced its move to the Bay Area, visions of millions of research dollars danced in the heads of its executives. The move was heralded by the state's governmental leaders, Then State Treasurer Phil Angelides said,
"California voters overwhelmingly approved Proposition 71 (which created the stem cell agency) to ensure that California remains the hub of groundbreaking scientific innovation that has the potential to cure and treat debilitating and life-threatening ailments. Advanced Cell Technology's move to California sends a powerful message that this promise can be realized - bringing high-skilled jobs and revenues to our state, and most importantly, offering hope to millions of patients and their families."
West, then president of ACT, said the company was committed to being a world leader in regenerative medicine.

That was in 2006.  Eight years later, ACT, once the only company in the United States with an ongoing clinical trial involving human embryonic stem cells, changed its name to Ocata Therapeutics In 2016 it was purchased by Astellas Pharma of Japan for $379 million. By then, ACT had abandoned its then nominal operations in California after its multiple applications for California state funding failed to win approval (see here and here).

West left ACT in 2007. He is now co-CEO of BioTime, Inc., of Alameda, and is a member of the board of directors of Asterias Therapeutics, Inc., of Fremont, Ca. Both companies are faring much better with the state stem cell agency, formally known as the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM).

In 2013, Asterias picked up the human embryonic stem cell trial that Geron gave up on in 2011. West founded Geron in 1990 but left the company in 1998. Asterias has received $14.3 million to support the spinal injury trial that Geron abandoned.

BioTime also had better luck than ACT. It received a $4.7 million award from CIRM for work on human pluripotent stem cells. 

Last week's report from UC Davis scientist Knoepfler said that Astellas began a phase 1B trial in July to continue the macular degeneration work of ACT/Ocata. Knoepfler described the latest effort as a "small bit of encouraging news."

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