Cynata & The Rubik of Cell Science

As with the sun rising in the East so have the first two pioneering programs using Induced Pluripotent Stem Cell (iPSC) technology for human clinical study. Independently initiated, but now strategic brethren, the Japanese and Australian efforts to provide a next gen proof-of-concept foundation have all the makings of a new dawn in Stem Cell Science, one that many hope will deliver on unfulfilled expectations for the field.

Methods and mechanics, protocols and parameters - these are but a few of the myriad of defining characteristics that a commercial cell product needs to elucidate in the highly complex rubik of molecular innovation and translational steps. Barcodes if you will of cell product definitions underlying the very nature of scientific clarity and positioning that will pave the road moving forward and deliver safely on The N Factor of human trials with data.

To highlight movement in this direction I’ve addressed a few questions to Dr. Ross MacDonald, CEO of the Australian stem cell company Cynata Therapeutics, on recent progress with their iPSC programs and business plan for this update review piece on the previous conversation I posted last year.

Q&A:

M - Cynata is poised to begin an important sector accomplishment with a first-in-man clinical trial involving a therapeutic product derived from Allogeneic Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells (iPSCs). Can you kindly provide a brief refresh for us on the cell type/technology being used, the target indication and the clinical trial sites prep/patient application/data timelines?

R - We are using a clinical grade, human iPSC as the starting material.  The iPSC cells were obtained from Cellular Dynamics International (CDI).  From these cells we manufacture our finished product, a therapeutic mesenchymal stem cell (MSC) preparation, using our proprietary Cymerus™ manufacturing process.  The target indication is steroid-resistant acute Graft versus Host Disease (GvHD) and the Phase 1 clinical trial is entitled: “An Open-Label Phase 1 Study to Investigate the Safety and Efficacy of CYP-001 for the Treatment of Adults With Steroid-Resistant Acute Graft Versus Host Disease”.  The trial will aim to recruit approximately 16 participants who have undergone a bone marrow transplant or similar procedure, and were subsequently diagnosed with steroid-resistant Grade II-IV acute GvHD.  The study centers are located in the United Kingdom and in Australia and we expect the study should conclude by the end of 2017. GvHD is a potentially fatal disease that often follows a bone marrow transplant procedure and occurs when the immune cells in the donor material (the graft) attack the recipient’s tissues (the host) as “foreign”. 

M - Your recent validating announcement that Cynata has signed a definitive License Option and Equity Investment Agreement with FujiFilm reiterates your strategy to develop and partner development programs with leading sector players. Could you review for us this strategy, the determining factors involved in the decision to sign a partner to your lead program at this stage and the synergy with FujiFilm’s Regenerative Medicine divisions moving forward.

R - Cynata’s Cymerus technology enables the economic manufacture of a consistent and robust therapeutic MSC product.  Given the very many potential therapeutic applications for MSCs (noting the >600 clinical trials underway using MSCs) it would not be possible for Cynata on its own to adequately exploit even a small fraction of the potential commercial opportunities.  Moreover, the Australian environment for biotech companies is challenging for those seeking to become a fully integrated, sales and marketing enterprise.  Accordingly, we believe the best path to ensure shareholders derive stellar returns is to partner our technology with those companies that have the resources, expertise, enthusiasm and global exposure to drive commercialisation of our products.  Clearly Fujifilm is a very active participant in the regenerative medicine sector and has shown a willingness to invest very heavily to maximise the chances of success.  They are an ideal partner for Cynata.  We have however left open the opportunity to work with other companies as well.

M - In your press release on the deal with FujiFilm you mentioned that the arrangement included “certain rights to other Cynata technology.” Are you at liberty to detail somewhat the nature of the technology and the rights granted.

R -  No.

M - Currently Cynata has targeted UK/Europe and Australia as its initial trial territories and has received favorable green light feedback from the respective regulators. Could you comment on the developing regulatory framework to commence these types of pioneering iPSC studies in the US and Cynata’s plans for clinical work in the US market.

R - We have already had very positive initial dialogue with the US FDA. We plan to progress these interactions this year, and we will certainly seek to include US centres in our clinical trials as we move forward. The Regenerative Advanced Therapy Designation process, which the FDA has recently introduced, is of great interest to us and potentially has numerous advantages, including accelerated approval, greater interaction with the FDA, assistance with study design, smaller trials, and ability to rely on real world evidence rather than solely data from formal clinical trials.

M - As Cynata is a leader in the development of Pluripotent derived Allogeneic iPSC treatment technology is there a perspective you could share that puts into context the application specific potential for programs that seek personalized treatment options with Autologous iPSC technologies versus Allogeneic iPSC approaches. Is there a case for both, putting aside the cost issues for a moment, with regard to targeted therapeutic potential, safety and immunogenicity?   

R - I do think there is a case for both, but as always it will come down to (i) the weight of clinical evidence and (ii) cost. Autologous iPSCs may have a greater role to play in tissue engineering applications, where the aim is directly replace or repair damaged tissue at a site of injury or disease.  With our Cymerus technology we have sought to provide a solution to the practical shortcomings associated with manufacturing an “off-the-shelf” allogeneic MSC product.  We firmly believe that our approach, ie using iPSCs, will yield a huge cost and regulatory advantage, at least insofar as MSC therapeutics are concerned.  The broader applications of iPSC-derived cell therapy products is being hotly debated and much research capital is being expended on developing the “super haplobanks” to make allogeneic products more practical. 

M - As previously reviewed, the IP surrounding your technology was invented by scientists at the University of Wisconsin and exclusively licensed to Cynata by the University’s IP management arm, WARF. You note that that these foundational patents are being expanded upon by the filing of additional Cynata patent applications related to progressive discoveries to the underlying technology. Could you provide some specifics at this stage as to the substance of the novel and unique aspects of the invention mentioned, given, I believe, these innovations are as yet unpublished.

R - Indeed we are seeking to build the IP platform with additional patents around new inventions in our Cymerus technology.  As these applications are in the early stages of prosecution we are unable to provide details at this stage.

M - In respect to your other program assets, could you highlight recent developments that pertain to Cynata’s pipeline and any news on initiated research into new indications, such as the positive impact Cymerus™ mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) could have for Asthma suffers.

R - The data we reported late last year in the well-established chronic allergic airways disease model was certainly very exciting and accordingly we have been encouraged to further study the effects of our Cymerus MSCs in related models and potentially into the clinical setting.  We also have active programs underway in cancer (through Harvard/MGH) and in cardiovascular disease (with Westmead Hospital/University of Sydney).  With the success of our recent capital raising the company is now very well positioned to accelerate these ongoing programs as well as to consider other areas where we might be able to quickly build value.

M - Finally, at present Cynata is a publicly traded entity on the Australian securities exchange (ASX). Do you have any plans in the near term to reach out to more investors through a UK or US listing?

R - This is a question that stimulates much discussion around the boardroom tables of Australian biotech companies.  Certainly US and European investors have a very high level of understanding of the potential risks and rewards of biotech and the availability and quantum of capital is typically higher than in Australia.  However, an offshore listing is not for the faint hearted and some recent spectacular fails have made Aussie’s very circumspect. We have an open mind, but would prefer to really build a solid and supportive shareholder base in Australia first and thus have a solid foundation beneath us before we would contemplate a foreign exchange.

M - Thank you Ross for your time and all the best for the upcoming trial. Cheers