San Antonio — A San Antonio life sciences nonprofit is working with three other organizations to learn how to produce larger volumes of stem cells, and has received $7.8 million from a military-based nonprofit group to do so.
BioBridge Global and its subsidiary, GenCure, plan to develop a methodology for increasing the amount of clinical-grade stem cells that can be produced in biomanufacturing, targeting corporate and academic researchers that may need larger levels of stem cells for regenerative medicine and cellular therapy research, says Becky Cap, the chief operating officer of GenCure. That could include people who are researching fields such as 3-D bioprinting of soft-tissue cartilage and joints or something as complex as growing a human heart, Cap says.
Stem cells can be manipulated into becoming specialized types of cells, such as muscle cells or brain cells that could be used to repair or regenerate that type of tissue. But you need massive amounts of stem cells for the work, Cap says.
“The capabilities in this sector right now are at a scale that’s appropriate for bench research and some clinical research, depending on the indication and volume of cells we need,” she says. “We’re talking about moving from hundreds of millions of cells to billions of cells. You need billions of cells to do tissue regeneration, scaffold reengineering.”
That sort of large-scale manufacturing is still years out. The $7.8 million will fund work on the project over three years and includes BioBridge collaborating with three other organizations: the U.S. Army Institute of Surgical Research and two companies that work in stem cell manufacturing, San Antonio-based StemBioSys and Frederick, MD-based RoosterBio. The money was awarded by Medical Technology Enterprise Consortium, a nonprofit created by the U.S. Army’s Medical Research and Materiel Command to fund medical research.
The results that come from the work will incorporated into a contract manufacturing operation that BioBridge is opening within GenCure. The CMO wouldn’t necessarily produce cells itself, but would contract with researchers who need a certain type of cell to be mass produced, and provide them with the recipe to do it, Cap says.
A client might say, “we want this number of cells according to this recipe, but according to this scale that you have,” Cap says. “Here’s your building block, now take the volume of the building block you need.”
During the first year of the collaboration, GenCure plans to work with StemBioSys, a company that has developed an extracellular matrix to replicate stem cells, on creating materials to be used in growing cells and incorporating StemBioSys’ technology. Then, the group will work with RoosterBio, a company focused on biological engineering processes, to scale up the technology from plastic dishes to small and large bioreactors. The Army surgical research institute is working on basic science components, such as media and assays that might be smart to use.
Though BioBridge is a nonprofit, it does sell products and services, such as various clinical and blood testing, through its four subsidiaries, including GenCure. It recorded $19.6 million in revenue in 2014, according to tax documents. GenCure accepts and stores bone marrow and umbilical cord blood, both of which produce stem cells.