BioWorld International Correspondent

LONDON - NovaThera Ltd. is expanding its collaboration with NovaLung GmbH in a €2 million (US$2.6 million) project to build a prototype artificial lung that uses stem cell-derived pneumocytes to boost gas exchange.

At the same time, the Cambridge, UK-based stem cell specialist is embarking on a new funding round, aiming to raise up to £5 million (US$9.7 million).

In a collaboration that began in September 2005, the two companies have been assessing the potential for using NovaThera's pneumocytes in NovaLung's Interventional Lung Assist Device. This takes over oxygen/carbon dioxide exchange, giving the lungs of patients with acute respiratory failure time to recover, or to bridge the waiting time for a lung transplant. The portable device carries out gas exchange via a heparin-coated biocompatible membrane.

"The device is successful, but the question is, could it be made smaller and more efficient by adding cellular components to aid gas exchange? And can you get it to do anything else, for example, secrete growth factors?" asked Gareth Roberts, CEO of NovaThera.

During the first phase of the collaboration, it has been shown that NovaThera's cells can live on the membrane. NovaLung of Hechingen, Germany, will now build a prototype to test a number of NovaThera's cell lines and do some physiological testing on animals.

"We've worked out that you need 1 billion cells per device," Roberts told BioWorld International. "The aim is to find out what is the most efficient cell line and to have a working prototype at the end of two years."

As there would be no immune rejection issues, Roberts noted that using stem cell-derived cell lines in devices might be the first area in which they are commercialized for use in therapy.

NovaThera claims its Type II pneumocytes are fully analogous with the naturally occurring cells that line the alveoli in the lungs. The company, a spin-off from the Tissue Engineering and Regenerative Medicine Center at Imperial College in London, has succeeded in generating a number of different cell types and is working on the development of large-scale GMP-compliant manufacturing processes.

Roberts said the next round of funding would be used to step up development of the company. "There's a way of growing organically, but now we have the fundamental technology in place we want to go faster."