Mesoblast has long been the one poster child for stem cell therapy. Now Cynata and other ASX stocks have emerged
Health & Biotech
Health & Biotech
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Stem cell therapy, sometimes called regenerative medicine, is one of the most exciting areas of the life sciences sector right now.
Since the pandemic, the sector has emerged into the public’s spotlight with new developments in mRNA-based vaccines and therapies.
Nasdaq is the obvious breeding ground for world-class stem cell companies with the likes of Moderna and BioNTech, and lesser known names like Anavex and Enochian.
In Australia, Mesoblast (ASX:MSB) has long been the local poster child for the regenerative medicine industry.
Mesoblast has developed a platform of innovative cellular medicines, but the company has struggled since the FDA rejected its drug in October last year.
Now, other ASX companies like Cynata Therapeutics (ASX:CYP) are making rapid progress to take over the mantle from MSB in this hot field.
Cynata is developing a mesenchymal stem cells (or MSC) technology, which it says has huge therapeutic potential for numerous unmet medical needs.
This includes asthma, heart attack, sepsis, and acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), which all add up to a market opportunity worth $46bn, says the company.
According to CEO Dr Ross Macdonald, who spoke to Stockhead today, MSC is the hottest segment of stem cell therapy at the moment, and has gained a lot of attention recently.
“There is a huge interest, and there’s been more than 1000 clinical trials conducted around the world using MSC,” Dr Macdonald told Stockhead.
He explains that the human’s immune system controls many of the body’s functions responsible for repairing tissue after injury or disease, and defending against invading germs like viruses or bacteria.
“And just like an orchestral conductor, MSC seems to be playing a central role in that coordination within our immune system.”
“We now have a firm understanding of how those cells coordinate the body’s responses, and can use that knowledge to enhance those processes that they control,” Dr Macdonald explained.
In short, MSC therapies work by expressing a variety of chemokines and cytokines that aid in repair of degraded tissue, restoration of normal tissue metabolism and, most importantly, counteracting inflammation.
And because MSCs play that co-ordination role within the immune system, they can be used to treat different diseases.
However there’s one big problem with cell-based therapies, and it’s not to do with the safety and efficacy.
‘It’s how to manufacture these products on a mass scale, that is the greatest challenge right now,” says Dr Macdonald.
Unlike aspirin where it can be synthesised in a chemical lab and produced in bulk, manufacturing a living drug like a cell is a whole lot more complicated.
“But that big challenge is the exact area of strength and competitive advantage that Cynata has,” Dr Macdonald told Stockhead.
He says Cynata has a technology platform which allows it to manufacture essentially limitless quantities of MSCs, consistently and economically.
Dr Macdonald explains there are two approaches to using cell therapy, the autologous and the allogeneic approach.
The autologous approach is where the patient themselves serves as their own donor.
“This is obviously bespoke and inefficient, because the drug can only be manufactured for that one patient, and is obviously not an industrialised process,” he said.
But by taking an allogeneic approach, Cynata has the ability to start with a one time donation of cells from one single donor.
“We’ll never have to go back to that human donor ever again, so our process of producing cells has become a very much more typical industrialised process.”
The company has a patent for this, with two clinical trials underway and two more under preparation.
A Phase 3 clinical trial for osteoarthritis which is funded by a NHMRC grant has progressed the furthest, while a Phase 2 trial in COVID-19 is ongoing.
Meanwhile a Phase 1 study in GvHD, which was published in prestigious journal Nature Medicine, is probably the closest to commercialisation according to Dr Macdonald.
GvHD is a challenging disease which occurs in patients who have had a bone marrow transplant as part of their chemotherapy treatment for cancer.
Chemo is still very much a sledgehammer therapy where you use very toxic drugs that do kill the cancer cells, but they also kill the surrounding healthy cells that grow hair and bone marrow.
“Unfortunately for many patients, the bone marrow transplant reacts against their body and starts to attack all of the tissues in the body, and it’s ultimately fatal.”
“It’s a horrible death, destroying the lungs, liver, intestines and the skin,” Macdonald explains.
“Cynata’s MSC therapy has been shown to reset that reaction, so the patient can recover from the GvHD, and also recover from their underlying cancer.”
With all these clinical trials concurrently under way, Macdonald believes there is a clear significant upside potential for Cynata, particularly given its small market cap of $70m compared to other similar plays like Mesoblast ($1 billion market cap).
Osteopore (ASX:OSX) focuses in bones and specialises in the production of 3D printed bioresorbable implants that are used in surgical procedures to assist with the natural stages of bone healing.
The 3D bio-printer makes a scaffold that mimics bone, with a patented micro-architecture which traps the patient’s own stem cells.
Orthocell (ASX:OCC) develops collagen medical devices and cellular therapies for the repair and regeneration of human tendons, bone, nerve and cartilage defects.
Its flagship product, the CelGro, is a naturally derived collagen medical device for tissue repair.
Aroa Biosurgery (ASX:ARX) develops FDA-approved medical devices for wounds and tissue repair using its extracellular matrix (ECM) technology, mainly in the United States.
Recent study shows 100% success rates from the use of its Myriad product when patients underwent surgical reconstruction of exposed vital structures such as bone and tendon.
Regeneus’ (ASX:RGS) Progenza is a cellular therapy targeting pain and inflammation which uses Secretome to improve not only the resident tissue, but the MSCs themselves.
It fills a gap in the current treatment market for osteoarthritis, by providing disease modification and pain relief to address patient symptoms.
Anteris Technologies (ASX:AVR) claims that its Adapt Technology is the first and only bio-scaffold technology that completely re-engineers xenograft tissue into a pure collagen scaffold.
A recent study indicated that Adapt-treated tissue has superior anti-calcification attributes compared with tissues used in competitor valves.