BioWorld International Correspondent

LONDON - With a scant 12 month's cash, Stem Cell Sciences plc has brought in Alistair Riddell as CEO to put the company on a firmer financial footing, with founding CEO Peter Mountford stepping down to the position of chief technology officer.

Most recently, Riddell was nonexecutive chairman of Surface Therapeutics Ltd., overseeing its acquisition by Serentis Ltd. in September. In March he was at the helm of Paradigm Therapeutics Ltd. when it was acquired for an undisclosed cash sum by Takeda Pharmaceuticals Co. Ltd. From 1998 to 2005, Riddell was CEO of Pharmagene plc, navigating the human tissue drug discovery services company through several rounds of venture capital funding and onto the main market of the London Stock Exchange.

With less than one hour in the post, Riddell told BioWorld International that Stem Cell Sciences' current strategy of building value by developing the market for stem cells as tools in drug discovery appears to be the correct approach to commercializing stem cell research. "From where I stand now, this makes the most sense - there is huge potential for the use of stem cells in drug discovery."

The Edinburgh, Scotland-based company has agreements with Millipore Corp., and Merck and Co Inc. for the use and commercialization of stem cell products as drug discovery tools, and Riddell said several other discussions about similar collaborations are in hand.

The key to building the market is to develop automated systems for the reproducible, large-scale production of stem cells and stem cell-derived products. "Once you have got it right, you can grow as many cells as you like," Riddell said.

Stem Cell Sciences has been concentrating on the development of automated cell production systems at its facility in Cambridge, UK, and claims it soon will be able to supply stem cells for large-scale compound library screening.

However, the ambition of developing stem cells as therapies remains, Riddell said. "Using stem cells in therapy is an attractive idea, but there are practical difficulties."

"I'm a great believer in doing one thing at a time. The company has had some modest commercial success. We need to improve on that, and when the financing of the company looks more secure, we can engage in looking at the future of therapies," he added.

Riddell's appointment follows Mountford's decision to move from the UK back to his native Australia, where he founded Stem Cell Sciences in 1994. In April Mountford steered the company to an additional listing on the Australian Stock Exchange, raising AS$12 million (then US$9.9 million), in an offer that closed ahead of plans following strong demand.

For Mountford, who has struggled to raise cash for the company since its formation, it was a novel experience to find receptive investors. Stem Cell Sciences has had a lackluster time on the Alternative Investment Market (AIM) in London, since it listed there in July 2005, coming away with £6 million (then US$10.5 million), rather than the hoped for £10 million to £15 million. Joining AIM was itself a default option when the company found itself unable to raise any more money privately.

In his new role, Mountford will concentrate on sourcing and licensing stem cell technologies, developing new business opportunities from the technology platform and expanding the company's network of academic collaborators.