Two new companies based in North Rhine-Westphalia are well on the way to developing stem-cell based medical products: amongst other items, UriCell and Ncardia make cellular products for toxicology and drug screening using induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs). The newly founded companies are great examples of how attractive North Rhine-Westphalia has become as a base for innovative stem cell enterprises.
Why should iPSCs be gained through interventions in the human body? Couldn't we use urine for this purpose and thus isolate stem cells from the patient safely and painlessly? These were the questions posed by a team of scientists led by Professor James Adjaye at the Institute for Stem Cell Research and Regenerative Medicine (ISRM) at the University Hospital Düsseldorf. The Institute uses iPSC-based technology to research diseases and the early stages of development of the human body. In the past, the team has often used cells derived from skin, bone marrow, amniotic fluid and blood for this purpose, as these cells are suitable for reprogramming. The impetus for changing to urine as a source of stem cells came from a paper by a group of researchers in China. They demonstrated that it was possible to generate iPSCs from cells that had been isolated from urine. The team in Düsseldorf discovered that urine contains at least five different cell types. They were able to identify kidney stem cells that behave in a similar manner to mesenchymal stem cells derived from bone marrow. Based on these scientific discoveries, the stem cell researchers developed a concept for the UriCell startup and were awarded the public's prize in the 2016 Competition of Ideas organized by Heinrich Heine University. In addition, the team has now been awarded the second prize of 5,000 euros and also the prize voted for by the public in the NUK Business Plan Competition (New Enterprises Rhineland, www.neuesunternehmertum.de). UriCell's next steps will be to patent a number of processes and applications, and to attract funding and investment capital in order to be able to establish a limited company - UriCell GmbH - in order to venture into the market as soon as possible. As a service provider to the research industry, UriCell aims to make cellular products for basic research and toxicology/drug screening, driving forward the field of personalised medicine (see www.uricell.de).
Ncardia is the name of a newly formed company which has taken up the cause of developing hiPSC-derived drug discovery solutions. The company is active worldwide with offices in Europe (the German division is located in Cologne) and the US, and was created from the merger of Pluriomics and Axiogenesis. Ncardia produces and sells fully functional human iPSC-derived cardiovascular and neural cell types. It also develops electrophysiological, biochemical and contraction-based assays for assessing drug candidates in terms of their pharmacological safety as well as developing toxicological tests and efficacy studies, which are also offered as part of the service. As a result of the merger, Ncardia is looking to provide products and assay solutions within a much shorter timeframe and thus contribute to speeding up and improving the discovery and development of effective and safe pharmaceutical products.