Aastrom Biosciences, a privately held stem cell and gene therapycompany, raised $10 million through equity investments from venturecapital firms and a Sweden-based corporate partner.

Aastrom's most advanced product is its Cell Production System,which is being developed as a means of restoring the chemotherapy-destroyed bone marrow of cancer patients. The Ann Arbor, Mich.-based company's technology involves collecting small amounts ofstem cells from patients or donors and then generating, ex vivo,sufficient quantities of the cells for transplant to replenish recipients'bone marrow.

The Aastrom Cell Production System, which isclassified by the FDA as a device and is targeted for on-site operationat clinical care facilities, is being tested in Phase I/II trials as atreatment for breast cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy.

Walter Ogier, Aastrom's director of marketing, said the device alsohas potential applications for stem cell gene therapy. The company'sother major product, called a Gene Loader, is under development as amethod of facilitating ex vivo gene transfer into stem cells and othertissue cells.

Of the $10 million raised, $5 million represented equity investmentsfrom venture capitalists led by the Enterprise Development Fund, ofAnn Arbor, and the Northwest Ohio Venture Fund, of Toledo. Bothare new investors.

The other $5 million came from Lakewood, Colo.-based Cobe BCT,a subsidiary of Sweden's Gambro Group. Cobe, a maker of blood-separation systems, has a $15 million equity stake in Aastrom. Thealliance between the companies was formed two years ago tocommercialize the Cell Production System.

Ogier said Aastrom has raised $30 million since it was formed in1989 in partnership with the University of Michigan. The newfinancing gives the company enough cash to keep operating into late1996.

Aastrom's Cell Production System differs from other blood cellrestoration strategies in its ability to generate large quantities of earlystage stem cells, Ogier said.

"Other technologies applied to stem cell expansion effectivelyproduce other progenitor cells that won't provide long-termrepopulation of stem cells," Ogier said.

In addition, because Aastrom's system produces stem cells withoutmature lymphocytes, Ogier said the company hopes to conductclinical tests of the device for allogeneic bone marrow and organtransplants.

Aastrom's Gene Loader is designed to enhance efforts at gettingtherapeutic genes into cells and chromosomes. In stem cells, whereintroducing genes is difficult, Ogier said, the gene loader may be ableto boost transduction efficiency 100 times. He added that Aastrom islooking for corporate partners to continue development of theproduct. n

-- Charles Craig

(c) 1997 American Health Consultants. All rights reserved.