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ReNeuron acquires Californian base and new diabetes technology

Published on 02/08/07 at 03:18pm

Pioneering British stem cell research company ReNeuron has bought the Californian company, AmCyte - a move it hopes will make it a world-leader in stem cell therapy to treat type I diabetes.

The company will pay $4 million to acquire the business assets of AmCyte Inc, a firm based in Santa Monica, California, which specialises in early-stage stem cell work.

Two of the biggest obstacles in producing stem cells to treat type I diabetes are, first, the lack of suitable donated pancreatic tissue from which to derive insulin-producing islet cells and, second, the immune rejection typically seen when transplanting raw islets into diabetes patients.

ReNeuron says its new acquisition will give it the technology to overcome both these problems, which could put the company at the forefront of commercial diabetes stem cell treatment.

ReNeuron is one of a handful of companies worldwide which are perfecting the very tricky science behind manufacturing large quantities of high-quality stem cells for specific diseases which can then be injected into patients.

Meanwhile, AmCyte's encapsulation technology puts the islet cells into microscopic capsules which help to stop the patient's body rejecting the new tissue.

The acquisition also gives ReNeuron a US laboratory and staff in California, the heart of the world's most mature biotech cluster.

Commenting on the acquisition, Michael Hunt, chief executive of ReNeuron, said: "This transaction will substantially enhance ReNeuron's cell therapy capabilities, and we are also pleased to have struck the deal during a period of relative strength of sterling against the dollar.

"As well as bringing us a talented research and development team in the US, we believe that the combination of ReNeuron's ReN002 islet cells and AmCyte's encapsulation technology has the potential to place our business among the leaders in the development of a safe and efficacious cell therapy for type I diabetes."

The company says the purchase also allows it to explore other therapeutic cell types where ReNeuron's cell expansion technology and AmCyte's encapsulation system may deliver significant therapeutic benefit.

AmCyte's cell encapsulation system can produce therapeutic cells of varying types and has been proven to help pancreas cells to start  working again in animals with type I diabetes.

AmCyte has already conducted early safety studies in a small number of severely diabetic patients using encapsulated primary islets, with no safety or rejection issues arising during the treatment.

Meanwhile, ReNeuron recently announced success with its own ReN002 diabetes programme in generating insulin-producing islet cell clusters using its c-mycER cell expansion technology.

A group of US academic researchers announced a potential breakthrough in April this year, with a study suggesting that some patients have been cured of type I diabetes through the use of stem cell therapy.

Research recently published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) found all but two of the 15 patients on the trial did not need daily insulin injections three years after stopping the stem cell treatment.

But researchers stress the studies have a long way to go before proving their worth, with the therapy's mechanism and long-term effects yet to be demonstrated.

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