Athersys Seeks Commercial Partners

The biopharmaceutical company Athersys is looking for commercial partners in the R&D of its various therapies, which include conventional drug therapies as well as some novel stem cell therapies.

According to Athersys chairman and CEO, Dr. Gil Van Bokkelen, who spoke to analysts during a company conference call, Athersys currently has the cash equivalents of $25.3 million, which is enough to keep the company operating through 2011. Nevertheless, the company would like to add to its capital base by partnering with other companies in the completion of the testing and development of therapeutic product lines.

The main product in the company’s stem cell line, known as MultiStem, is an off-the-shelf therapy that Athersys is currently testing for the treatment of heart attack, stroke, and graft-versus-host disease. As Dr. Van Bokkelan explained during the conference call, "We believe these and other capabilities will allow them to be relevant in a number of therapeutic areas, and we and our collaborators are excited about the potential utility of MultiStem for treating major conditions." Unlike many other types of stem cell therapies, which are designed "to achieve wholesale replacement of damaged tissue", Dr. Van Bokkelan described MultiStem as exhibiting "a more drug-like profile in which cells augment healing and exert a benefit in multiple ways, and then are cleared from the body over time." He added, however, that the wide range of applications for MultiStem "represent a development challenge, especially for an emerging biopharmaceutical company," which is why Athersys has decided to seek commercial partnerships. As Dr. Van Bokkelan further adds, "Accordingly, we believe that the optimal way to advance our MultiStem program is to find a significant commercial partner."

Under Dr. Van Bokkelan’s leadership, Athersys has been exploring partnership opportunities for months and is "greatly encouraged by the ongoing level of interest among potential partners." As he further describes, "We are confident that we will be able to secure strategic partnerships that will enable us to advance our MultiStem programs in a meaningful and substantial way."

Located in Cleveland, Ohio, Athersys is also currently developing two separate drug candidates for the treatment of obesisty and problems in cognitive attention, both of which deal with the chemical regulation and control of neuroreceptors. Even in this field, Dr. Van Bokkelan finds that, "Once again, we are greatly encouraged by the level of interest among potential partners in both areas, and believe we are in a strong position to construct relationships with leading companies that share our vision of developing best-in-class therapeutics."

As described on their website, "Athersys is a clinical stage biopharmaceutical company with a growing pipeline of highly differentiated, potential best-in-class therapeutics to treat significant and life-threatening diseases. … Our current product development portfolio consists of MultiStem, a patented and proprietary stem cell product that we are developing as a treatment for multiple disease indications, and that is currently being evaluated in two Phase I clinical trials. In addition, we are developing novel pharmaceuticals to treat indications such as obesity, as well as certain conditions that affect cognition, attention, and wakefulness. Our strategic approach to drug development builds on internally and externally generated knowledge to identify and develop proprietary and highly differentiated products, as well as enable the company to limit development risks and costs."

As further described on the website of Athersys, "MultiStem is a biologic product that is manufactured from human stem cells obtained from adult bone marrow or other nonembryonic tissue sources. The product consists of a special class of human stem cells that have the ability to express a range of therapeutically relevant proteins and other factors, as well as form multiple cell types. Factors expressed by MultiStem have the potential to deliver a therapeutic benefit in several ways, such as the reduction of inflammation, protection of damaged or injured tissue, and the formation of new blood vessels in regions of ischemic injury. These cells exhibit a drug-like profile in that they act primarily through the production of factors that regulate the immune system, protect damaged or injured cells, promote tissue repair and healing and most or all of the cells are cleared from the body over time."

One of the co-founders of Athersys, Dr. Van Bokkelan has served as CEO of the company since its founding, as well as the president of Athersys prior to 2006. Dr. Van Bokkelan holds a double B.A. in Economics and Molecular Biology from the University of California at Berkeley, and a Ph.D. in Genetics from Stanford.

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