Regenerative medicine: Moving closer to the clinic and commercialization

Has the regenerative medicine industry come of age? That’s the question we’re looking at as part of CCRM’s blog carnival this week and it’s one that the Ontario Institute of Regenerative Medicine (OIRM) often has to consider.

Like many areas of science, regenerative medicine seems at times to move with rapid speed, while at others breakthroughs seem to come at an excruciatingly slow pace. When you think about it, the field really only began in the 1990s, so compared to many other areas of medicine we are moving at an accelerated pace. But as we enter into another years’ long clinical trial, patients wonder why it’s taking so long to see the benefits of stem cell therapies in the clinic.

The reality is that regenerative medicine is one of the most promising areas of healthcare science and Ontario is at the forefront. We have already seen incredible progress in the use of stem cell therapies in cancer treatments. And those clinical trials that seem so far off for those struggling with a devastating disease? They are moving forward at a pace that’s on par with, if not faster than, more traditional therapies because we need to ensure that these treatments work and that they are safe. That’s not something you can judge in a short span of time.

Investors clearly feel that regenerative medicine is ready for the spotlight. OIRM was one of the first to fund the groundbreaking work of University Health Network’s Dr. Michael Laflamme, whose team is using stem cells to repair damaged heart tissue. Laflamme recently partnered with BlueRock Therapeutics—a $225 million investment by Versant Ventures and Bayer—to commercialize this treatment.

Now, Dr. Duncan Stewart, president and scientific director for OIRM has launched a multi-centre phase II clinical trial across Canada, with four sites in Ontario, in partnership with a U.S. biotechnology company. The trial utilizes a cell and gene therapy to treat pulmonary hypertension, which has enormous potential to help those who suffer the devastating consequences of this disease.

Dr. Stewart discussed the trial in a recent issue of Biotechnology Focus and why it’s so important for the field—and the province.

“These types of investments show the value international investors place in Ontario’s ability to create breakthrough technologies in the regenerative space,” says Dr. Stewart. “All of the cells for this trial will be manufactured in Ontario at The Ottawa Hospital, where there is the needed expertise for manufacturing the large number of cells required for these trials and the logistical experience essential to transporting cells across the country. This is an opportunity for the biotech industry in Ontario to showcase the world-leading work being done in this province.”

Every day at OIRM we see new and innovative treatments moving closer to the clinic and to commercialization. In Ontario, we now have 13 clinical trials on cell therapies running or set to start in the next year. This is remarkable progress. Does it mean that cell therapies have come of age? Perhaps, but we like to think it’s just the tip of a very big iceberg with so much more to come.

Would you like to hear what other thought leaders in the regenerative medicine space think about this question? Visit CCRM’s Signals blog to read all of the blog carnival posts from participating organizations.