Stem cell meeting takes on national, international flavor

La Jolla’s annual meeting about stem cells was once about stem cell science in San Diego, largely presented and attended by stem cell scientists in San Diego. But the Stem Cell Meeting on the Mesa has grown to take on a national, or even international, flavor.

Along with the growing emphasis on commercializing regenerative medicine research, companies in the field are hunting for corporate partners. And to reach the right people, they’re willing to travel far.

Of 35 companies and institutes presenting their technology Monday and Tuesday at the Sanford Consortium for Regenerative Medicine, just five are headquartered in San Diego County; 10 are headquartered elsewhere in California and 18 are from other states, along with one from the United Kingdom and one from the Netherlands.

Other companies have sent representatives to scout partnering opportunities.

The Stem Cell Meeting on the Mesa provides a focus on regenerative medicine hard to get in other conferences, said Alexander Vos, chief executive of PharmaCell, based in Maastricht, Netherlands. The company provides contract human cell and tissue culturing services.

“It makes (discussions) much more effective,” Vos said. “There are clearly other conferences as well, for instance the larger BIO (Biotechnology Industry Organization) meeting, but that covers all segments of the biotechnology industry, so there regenerative medicine is a small part. Here, it’s a very focused meeting.”

Closer to home, Cedars-Sinai Regenerative Medicine Institute in Los Angeles presented its technology along with the 34 other institutions, each given 15 minutes to make their “elevator pitch” to pique investor interest. Director Clive Svendsen said the institute is getting into “translational” research, which requires a business partner to get the treatment to patients. The meeting is well-suited to that goal, he said.

Svendsen said the meeting was made even more attractive because of the role of the state stem cell institute in organizing it. The California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, which has been awarding grants for basic research, has recently starting giving out more money for translational medicine. Last week it gave a $10.1 million grant to help San Diego’s ViaCyte bring a diabetes treatment to market.

In July, the Cedars-Sinai Regenerative Medicine Institute was awarded a $17.8 million CIRM grant to develop treatments for ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.

Svendsen said he’s had good discussions at the meeting, including one with a company that has developed a method of tracking stem cells once they’re transplanted into the body. That’s desirable to make sure the cells actually survive after transplantation, he said.

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Stem cell meeting takes on national, international flavor