The Swedish biopharmaceutical company NextCell Pharma is developing a drug candidate for type-1 diabetes by combining stem cells sharing specific criteria using a selection algorithm, after the cells are collected from umbilical cords.
ProTrans, the company’s potential treatment and its development method, was presented during the Nordic Life Science Days in Malmö, Sweden, as part of the growth in the region within the industry that has been seen recently.
After the presentation, Leo Groenewegen, business development manager and co-founder of NextCell spoke to BioPharma-Reporter about the project, as well as about Cellaviva, the stem cell bank run by NextCell.
According to the company’s executive, ProTrans-1, which is currently in a Phase I/II trial and presenting ‘encouraging’ results, is based on mesenchymal stem cells derived from umbilical cords that infants’ parents donate.
“After the cells are extracted and checked for bacterial infections, we test them against several criteria, using our selection algorithm,” Groenewegen told us.
The selected cells, which may come from many different cords, are then cultured and put together without any further modification or manipulation, at which point the treatment is ready for patient administration.
NextCell’s development process enables the production of large drug quantities and therefore could lead to providing affordable treatments to large patient populations, compared to other costly personalized treatments, according to Groenewegen.
Another potential benefit of the development method is its flexibility. “The first indication that we are examining is type-1 diabetes, but if we alter our selection criteria and adjust the algorithm, we could use it for different indications,” Groenewegen told us.
Other potential indications of the drug, according to NextCell’s executive, could include autoimmune, inflammatory, and degenerative diseases, as well as transplant rejections.
Turning medical waste into treatments
People are usually keen to donate umbilical cords, which would otherwise be medical waste, according to Groenewegen, although some concerns regarding the commercial use of the donation may occur.
“It is always the people’s choice, but without the donations we cannot advance our science. As long as cells become available, treatments will become available and medical research will go forward,” Groenewegen told us.
The importance of donating is due to the fact that treatments like ProTrans, made only by pure stem cells, “open up a whole new field of science on top of what is currently available,” Groenewegen stated, adding that researchers can go “from managing a disease to actually being able to cure it.”
Storage of stem cells
Prior to initiating the development of ProTrans in 2015, NextCell established Cellaviva, a commercial stem cell bank, offering fiber stem cell collection for people living in the Nordic countries.
Blood and tissue is collected after birth and sent – either from the parents alone or with the help of Cellaviva’s members – to the company’s laboratories, where it is analyzed and stored long-term.
“[At birth] is the best time in a patient’s life to collect their stem cells because these are fresh and have not been exposed to radiation. It is much better than using stem cells at a later age or when the patient is already sick,” Groenewegen said.
These stem cells will be available for use in case of future need, for potential personalized treatments that may become available in the future.