The human cellular sciences firm has opened its facility to gain new business opportunities in the lucrative hepatocyte and drug discovery markets. Additionally, Beta-Pro will focus on other human cell applications, including tissue assays, custom drug discovery, and toxicology testing services using human cells for potential pharmacological applications.
Joe Shields, a spokesperson for Beta-Pro, told Outsourcing-Pharma the expansion is important for the company as performing human tissue-based drug discovery research “can yield significantly more efficacious results” compared to when using animal cells.
“If human cells provide just one per cent greater accuracy or breadth in results, the increased efficacy can save pharma companies anywhere from a couple to several hundred million dollars as products come through the pipeline,” he claimed.
One of the first islet cell banks
According to Shields, the new laboratory is more expansive than the clinical transplant GMP (good manufacturing practice) facility Beta-Pro currently manages for the University of Virginia.
He said the laboratory will be used to investigate islet cell cryopreservation, so the company can offer one of the first islet cell banks to researchers. The laboratory is fully equipped with a controlled-rate freezer and a long-term cyostorage system, as well as a Cobe 2911 cell processor used for research isolations on cells.
The company says it will perform assays on site to produce quicker, cheaper, and more accurate results by eliminating the degradation, timing and costs that come with shipping cells and tissue to other screening facilities.
“Many pharmaceutical companies and research institutes are not large enough to have their own in-house screening facilities, so clients may now outsource to us,” said Shields.
So far Beta-Pro has invested around $3m (€2.2m) in the facilities and expansion initiatives to break into the $2-3bn hepatocyte drug market. “The size may seem small in the pharmaceutical world,” said Shields, “but drug screening results play a critical role in the entire drug process and impact decisions downstream that are worth billions of dollars.”
Advancements in stem cell research
In recent years, new developments in stem cell research, driven by the discovery of induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSC), have increased the availability and consistency of human cells available for clinical research. These changes “have enabled drug discovery teams to use human cells to a greater extent in their research, to improve their results and decision-making,” he said.
Along with the new facility, Beta-Pro will continue to run its GMP facility at the University of Virginia to supply diabetes researchers and transplant centres with clinical and transplantable human islets and other pancreatic biomaterials.
Shields said “Beta-Pro expects to become a $100m company within the next few years.” Saying that pharma companies need to test products in vitro on human cells as a primary toxicology screen before making billion-dollar investments, he believes this will secure long-term business prospects for Beta-Pro in the human cell service field.