Stem Cells: What's the Business Model?
This article was originally published in Start Up
The science of stem cells is progressing, slowly but surely, towards the ultimate goal of creating a therapeutic. The challenge is now largely economic: convincing investors that stem cells present a viable business opportunity.
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Whether a range of organ-specific stem cells exists and can be harnessed for potential therapy is an open question, but encouragingly, researchers have now provided evidence of human lung-specific stem cells. In addition to their potential role in regenerative medicine of the lung, continuing research around the methods used to find these cells could be a starting point for the development of improved methods for identifying enriched or more potent organ-specific stem cell populations.
Scientists have now shown that both normal and cancerous mammary cells may spontaneously "de-differentiate" into stem cells without any genetic manipulations. This apparently innate cellular plasticity suggests new possibilities for utilizing cultured cells both as a tool in the discovery of cancer therapies that target cancer stem cells and also as an autologous therapy in regenerative medicine.
Stem-cell and regenerative medicine firms are scrambling to find business models to harness the field's nascent, rapidly evolving science. Companies deep into clinical trials are still looking for pharma partnerships. Earlier stage biotechs are trying to turn their platforms into research revenue as they look to non-profit, government, and private funding sources to advance their preclinical therapeutic programs. Whatever the model, worries abound that the financial woes of the next couple of years could blunt hard-earned momentum.