Press Release: Allele Biotechnology & Pharmaceuticals Closes Purchase of cGMP Facility for Production of Clinical-Grade Cells for Cell Therapy Applications

SAN DIEGO–(BUSINESS WIRE)–Allele Biotechnology & Pharmaceuticals, Inc. (“Allele”), a leader in the development of specialized cells for pharmaceutical drug discovery and regenerative medicine, today announced that it has closed the purchase of a new facility intended for its cGMP (current good manufacturing practices) production of clinical-grade cells for cell therapy applications.

The 18,000 square-foot facility, located near the main headquarters of Allele in San Diego, California, will be the center of production of human induced pluripotent stem cells (hiPSCs) using Allele’s proprietary synthetic mRNA platform, a technology that generates hiPSCs with neither the random integration of foreign DNA nor the use of whole virus or virus-based elements, drawbacks that are common to other technologies for making hiPSCs. Such “footprint-free” cells will be produced by Allele for industrial and academic partnerships, as well as Allele’s own efforts in the area of cellular therapeutics.

hiPSCs, as cells that have the potential to become any cell in the human body, hold great promise for therapies that can alleviate or cure human disease. Towards this end, Allele has recently made a number of advances regarding the differentiation of hiPSCs towards cells of specific lineages, such as neural progenitor cells, neurons, astrocytes, mesenchymal stem cells, cardiomyocytes, skeletal muscle cells, hepatocytes, and adipocytes, including brown fat cells. These cells would also be produced in the cGMP facility when intended for specific therapies.

“This dedicated facility will help us to realize a number of our visions in bringing the benefits of pluripotent stem cells to society,” said Jiwu Wang, Ph.D., President and CEO of Allele. “The first step in helping people in need with all the stem cell technologies developed in labs is to clear a path to move them from bench to bedside, which requires high-quality, controlled production that can be monitored by the FDA. Together with our licensees, drug development partners, investors, and individuals who would like to participate in banking hiPSCs for research and therapy, we anticipate even faster pace in our business development in this area.”


Allele Biotechnology & Pharmaceuticals, Inc.
Jiwu Wang, 858-587-6645

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Autologous versus Allogeneic iPSCs in Immune Rejection

The enthusiasm of using autologous induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) for cell replacement therapy was dampened by a publication 2 years ago in Nature (Zhao et al, 2011), which suggested that even syngeneic (genetically identical) iPSCs could still invoke strong immune rejection because, as the authors in Yang Xu’s lab at UCSD explained, the iPSCs overexpress a number of tumor antigens possibly linked to genomic mistakes acquired during reprogramming. Embryonic stem cells (ESCs), on the other hand, did not show similar rejection problems in the same studies, indicating that the immune responses were due to somatic reprogramming.

If proven true, the iPSC-specific immune rejection would have been the biggest hurdle for any iPSC-inspired clinical plans. Naturally, a number of labs performed series of experiments that were aimed at addressing the concerns raised by Zhao et al. This month in Cell Stem Cell, researchers from Ashleigh Boyd’s lab at Boston University demonstrated that autologous (self) or syngeneic iPSCs or their derivatives were not rejected (Guha et al. 2013). These iPSCs behaved essentially the same as ESCs in transplantation settings. When immunogenicity was measured in vitro by monitoring T cell responses in co-culture, no immune response was observed either. In contrast, cells and tissues from allogeneic (genetically different) iPSCs were rejected immediately.

In light of this new publication and an earlier Nature paper (Araki et al. 2013), Kaneko and Yamanaka have commented that autologous iPSCs still seem to have a very good chance of being used in cell replacement therapy, pending, of course, additional research and trial results. In their Preview article in Cell Stem Cell (Kaneko and Yamanaka 2013) two points were particularly emphasized: 1) autologous iPSCs are preferred because of the lack of immune rejection; 2) iPSCs generated with footprint-free reprogramming technologies are preferred because the problems reported by Zhao et al 2011 might be correlated with the use of retroviral vectors (even though they also used episomal plasmid-reprogrammed iPSCs). We strongly support both of these points and believe that they point out the direction of future stem cell therapies.

However, we do not agree with the last statement by Kaneko and Yamanaka in that article stating that as a result of the cost and time required to generate iPSC lines from each patient in GMP facilities, iPSC lines from HLA homologous donors will be the choice going forward to clinical applications. First of all, HLA-matched iPSCs should be closer to allogeneic than to autologous iPSCs. From what we just learned in the last round of debates, the field should certainly go with autologous. Second, generating foot-print free iPSCs may already not be the rate-limiting step, even in cGMP protocols, compared to downstream differentiations that are required using any pluripotent stem cells. We have shown that human fibroblasts can be reprogrammed in a completely feeder-free, xeno-free, passage-free process, using only mRNAs, in just over a week, achieving sometimes “bulk conversion”—converting nearly all cells within a well into iPSCs (Warren et al. 2012). We have drawn up a plan to establish cGMP protocols and to quickly apply autologous, footprint-free iPSCs to clinical programs through partnerships. The field can move at a faster speed, with all due scientific vigor and caution, if the best technology available is chosen for building the foundation.

Zhao, T., Z.N. Zhang, Z. Rong, and Y. Xu, Immunogenicity of induced pluripotent stem cells. Nature, 2011. 474(7350): p. 212-5.

Guha, P., et al., Lack of immune response to differentiated cells derived from syngeneic induced pluripotent stem cells. Cell Stem Cell, 2013. 12(4): p. 407-1

Kaneko, S. and S. Yamanaka, To Be Immunogenic, or Not to Be: That’s the iPSC Question. Cell Stem Cell, 2013. 12(4): p. 385-6.

Araki, R., et al., Negligible immunogenicity of terminally differentiated cells derived from induced pluripotent or embryonic stem cells. Nature, 2013. 494(7435): p. 100-4.

Warren, L., Y. Ni, J. Wang, and X. Guo, Feeder-free derivation of human induced pluripotent stem cells with messenger RNA. Sci Rep, 2012. 2: p. 657.

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Tuesday, April 23rd, 2013 iPSCs and other stem cells No Comments