Described as the country’s second-largest biotech underwriting, the US$225-million deal between Versant Ventures and Bayer to create BlueRock Therapeutics could be taken as a signal that Canada’s regenerative medicine space is ready for the big time.
“Canada was chosen in the first place because the relevant experts for cardiology/stem cell approaches are in Toronto,” said Dr. Juergen Eckhardt, head of Bayer Venture Investment, Bayer Lifesciences Centre. “The people around the top scientists Dr. Gordon Keller and Dr. Michael Laflamme are key for BlueRock.”
“The University Health Network, Centre for Commercialization of Regenerative Medicine, and MaRS stand for the perfect scientific set-up and an inspiring environment for this ‘moonshot’ project,” he added.
Accessing stem cells technologies is part of Bayer LifeScience Centre’s strategy. Stem cell technologies have a unique potential to address diseases where we have no cure today as multifactorial issues are damaging tissues irreversibly. “One can see that in particular, in neurodegeneration and tissue damage following a heart attack,” said Eckhardt.
Bayer believes there are two novel technologies that have the potential to treat disease at the roots: one is DNA-Editing and Gene therapy that addresses inherited mutations in our genes that can cause disease. The other one is stem cell technology that allows regenerating tissues that have been damaged because of the normal aging process or disease.
BlueRock was created “because we want to develop transformative, stem cell-based medicines for patients with serious cardiovascular and neurological diseases based on the latest stem cell technology,” said Eckhardt.
He noted the advent of induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSC) has been among the major progress in the past year. iPSCs are stem cells that are not derived from human embryos – and novel gene editing technologies provide a unique opportunity to enter the field. iPSC technology shows significant advantages over other less-developed stem cell technologies.
A team led by Laflamme is also conducting research into the use of ventricular cardiac muscle cells to treat scar tissues that form in the heart after a heart attack.
BlueRock is also collaborating with Dr. Lorenz Struder at Memorial Sloan Kettering Institute’s Center for Stem Cell Biology in New York. The work will focus on the use of pluripotent stem dell-derived neurons to treat Parkinson’s disease.
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