Convergence and Complexity in Cardiac Regeneration
This article was originally published in Start Up
In heart failure, companies with expertise in gene or cell biology, or percutaneous delivery devices, see the first application where regenerative medicine could finally realize its promise. The enormous patient population, the high mortality of the disease, and the economics of treating it today provide a multi-billion dollar opportunity for which it's worth braving the complexity of cell therapy for tissue repair. Indeed, first-generation autologous heart cell therapies involve many different types of expertise resident in companies with different mindsets. Unknowns dog every component of the therapies on the level of basic biology. Still to be worked out: the right cell types; the optimal delivery route and device; when and at what dose cells should be administered, and in combination with which genes or drugs. Nevertheless, the great need in heart failure keeps companies dedicated to cardiac regeneration therapies. And as the cell therapy developers reveal new discoveries about the innate regenerative powers of the heart, drug developers are starting to move in, promising a much simpler approach than the combination products presently in the works.
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Amorcyte is intent on developing patients' own enriched bone-marrow stem cells as a treatment for cardiovascular disease. The idea is to infuse the stem cells into the heart a week or so after a severe heart attack, where they will linger and help restore damaged tissue. Results of a Phase I clinical trial recently reported at the scientific session of the American College of Cardiology conference showed the treatment was safe, and yielded insight into the minimum dosage necessary to generate a beneficial effect.
In March 2009, Belgium's Cardio3 BioSciences announced that a patient with chronic heart failure had for the first time received its C-Cure, a stem cell-based therapy developed to help heal damaged heart tissue. The procedure involved transplantation of the patient's own bone-marrow cells, which had been cultured and implanted according to specialized protocols. The company claims it has proved that its cells become cardiac myocytes, and are also part of the new vessels that are generated post-therapy. The Cardio3's scientists could also demonstrate that the implanted cells did not cause arrhythmia and thus were electrically linked to the rest of the tissue in the heart.
Harvest Technologies, a 14-year-old player in the blood and marrow supply arena, is moving aggressively into the business of selling stem cells therapies for cardiovascular disease.