By Brady Huggett
Artecel Sciences Inc., a company developing its adipose-derived stromal cells for tissue repair programs off the fat of the land, completed its first financing as November closed, raising $4 million.
"We feel that should last us about a year," said Carolyn Underwood, president and CEO of Artecel. "It will take a lot of money to move all this forward. There are very few people that have experience in this. It's real biotechnology, is how I like to think about it. It's a brave new world."
Eno River Capital LLC, of Durham, N.C., led the round. Other investors included the TriState Investment Group IV LLC, of Cary, N.C.; Bio World Venture Capital Corp., of Taipei, Taiwan; Fujisawa Investments for Entrepreneurship LP, of Osaka, Japan; and several individual investors. Underwood said Artecel would use the money to advance its scientific and product development programs.
Artecel, of Durham, N.C., was incorporated this fall, on Sept. 25. It uses a proprietary system for the study of human adipose tissue components, including adipocytes and stromal cells, and its programs are based on liposuction waste.
"[Founder] Yuan-Di Halvorsen brought the technology over from Zen-Bio [Inc., of Research Triangle Park, N.C.]," Underwood said. "She began extracting stromal cells from liposuction waste and growing them."
The stromal cells can be developed into bone, fat or cartilage cells, Underwood said, and Artecel hopes to be able to make muscle and neuronal cells as well.
Today at Artecel, Halvorsen, Underwood, and its two other founders, Bill Wilkison and Jeff Gimble, are focusing initially on two areas: soft tissue cosmesis and hematopoietic support in bone marrow transplantation, often needed for patients who undergo high-dose chemotherapy. They also are investigating bone and cartilage repair.
Artecel's soft tissue cosmesis program consists of extracting cells from liposuction waste, growing them, programming them into fat cells and injecting the fat cells into wrinkles or scars. Injecting fat has certainly been done before, but Underwood explained Artecel's method has advantages.
"Some cosmetologists use liposuction waste and inject it, but the problem is, they don't know what cells they are injecting," Underwood said. "They pull damaged cells, plus blood and tissue that are not fat cells. It's variable and hard to predict what results you will get. We hope we will be able to predict better what will happen with patients because we use healthy cells we grew."
The hematopoietic support program uses stromal cells from liposuction waste as a sort of fertilizer, combining them with hematopoietic stem cells from discarded umbilical cord blood. But umbilical cord stem cells are in short supply.
"We combine these stem cells with the stromal cells, and the stromal cells seem to grow better," Underwood said. "The hypothesis is you should be able to get more stem cells this way. And we hope that when we put these cells into the body, because they have been fertilized, they will be healthier."
Underwood said Artecel has done animal work in soft tissue cosmesis and is continuing work in mice. The hematopoietic support hypothesis will be examined in animals early next year.
"We hope, with the soft tissue cosmesis, it is something we could get through [the FDA] fairly quickly," Underwood said. "We think it is possible we could be in humans in less than three years, but we like to operate on the principle of under-promising and over-delivering."
Underwood said Artecel is looking to combine its stromal cell technology with a company specializing in stem cells, and since there are 40 companies doing some sort of tissue work, complementary technologies must exist. Also, it's possible a big pharma company might match up well with Artecel, she said. Artecel has a research program in adipocyte biology, aimed at the metabolic defect lipodystrophy.
To put it politely, the average American carries about 30 pounds of adipose tissue, something Artecel has considered.
"The fact that our starting material is something that we get from fat tissue is a strong advantage for the company," Underwood said. "Fat is abundant and it is easy to access."