At the end of last year, technology developer and manufacturer Demcon acquired a share in Scinus Cell Expansion, which develops equipment for stem cell therapy. Stem cell therapy has the potential to cure diseases related to the nervous system, diabetes, heart and vascular diseases, kidney diseases, Alzheimer and recovery following an infarction or to allow skin reconstruction. In order for stem cell therapy to be available to larger numbers of patients, it must be possible to culture the required stem cells simply in clinically relevant numbers. Scinus has developed promising technology for this, which is more reproducible, cheaper and less labour-intensive than the current technology. Demcon is now helping Scinus to enter the market. For this purpose, Michiel Jannink, Managing Director of Demcon medical systems, is also acting as CEO of Scinus. “Our main contribution is our experience in the marketing of medical technology and in this way we want to contribute to making stem cell therapy a mainstream treatment.”
The medical division is one of the largest branches in the rapidly expanding Demcon Group. This division focuses on – for example – in-vitro diagnostics, medical robotics and hospital equipment. General Manager Dennis Schipper explains that the company had a long-held desire to expand into tissue technology: “As a technology developer, we want to accept social corporate responsibility in our own way. One of the ways in which we achieve this is by contributing to developments in healthcare. Medical technology is currently aimed primarily at repairing the human body. However, a gradual shift is taking place towards stimulating the body to heal itself, for example with the aid of tissue culture techniques. We can develop equipment for this.”
A unique opportunity presented itself when the start-up Scinus Cell Expansion was looking for a strategic partner last autumn, to facilitate further growth and to enter the market. Scinus in Bilthoven (five employees) develops and supplies bioreactor technology for the culture of stem cells. The mission of Scinus is to make stem cell therapy globally accessible for a large group of patients. Stem cell therapy presents the promise of a cure for diseases related to the nervous system, diabetes, heart and vascular diseases, kidney diseases and Alzheimer. In addition, stem cells could be used for recovery after – for example – a cardiac or cerebral infarction and for the reconstruction of the skin following severe burn wounds, or in combination with an organ transplant.
Culturing stem cells
Stem cell therapy requires large numbers of stem cells, up to half a billion. It starts with stem cells that are obtained from – for example – the bone marrow or fatty tissue of the patient. This harvesting procedure may yield about a million cells, so they need to be multiplied. Until now, culturing has been performed in a 2D environment, in a medium on a nutritional substrate in culture flasks. This is a labour-intensive procedure consisting of several cycles in which cells are harvested and then seeded on new cultures to produce the required number of cells. This requires a large-scale deployment of specialised lab technicians and a complex, expensive cleanroom infrastructure to reduce the risk of contamination of the culture. “The entire field is convinced that we need to move towards bioreactors, thus requiring fewer man hours and resulting in less wastage of expensive medium.” This according to Michiel Jannink, Managing Director of Demcon medical systems, who has been acting as CEO of Scinus since the autumn of last year.
Innovative bioreactor technology
Scinus has developed an innovative alternative for the labour-intensive 2D culture method. This involves the controlled 3D culture of stem cells in a closed system. A flexible bioreactor bag is first mainly rolled up and can then slowly unfurl to expand along with the cell culture until the required number of cells has been produced in a continuous culture process. Scinus worked together with Applikon Biotechnology in Delft, they supplied the control technology for this system. Sensors monitor the oxygen concentration and the pH, and oxygen or CO2 can be added if necessary, explains Jannink. “This control loop ensures an optimal culture environment at all times and the biosensors allow us to monitor the growth of the cells. The medium and the micro-carriers on which the cells grow are added gradually. This method allows up to two billion cells to be cultured. Lab technicians perform the role of operator during this culture process, by closely monitoring the process. They can also develop new culture protocols. After all, this is still a delicate process that has to comply with all GMP requirements (Good Manufacturing Practices, a quality assurance system for the pharmaceutical industry, ed.).”
This new method of culturing cells is much simpler and produces results more quickly. Scinus worked closely with the Leiden University Medical Centre during the development of this method. Jannink: “The system is now ready for use in clinical practice, where additional research with several academic medical centers worldwide will take place. We have held initial discussions with key opinion leaders about installing a system in their clinic. They are positive about the functionality, particularly the good control over the cell growth process.”
Since taking a share in the company last autumn, Demcon has been a strategic partner for Scinus, providing the financial and technological support the company needs to ultimately enter the market. Jannink: “My role is to provide the expertise of Demcon in this field and to help Scinus to grow further. This includes setting up clinical trials, maintaining relationships with key individuals in the field and building a distribution network for the global sales of these systems. Our ultimate goal is to make stem cell culture easier and more affordable, thereby contributing to making stem cell therapy a mainstream option.”
Demcon (650 employees) develops, produces and supplies technology and innovative products and systems that offer solutions for the technical and societal challenges of clients and end users across the world. The focus areas are high-tech systems, medical systems, industrial systems & vision, optomechatronic systems and robotic systems. Demcon has branches in Enschede, Best, Delft, Groningen, Oldenzaal and Münster (Germany).
For more information, please contact Renée Koekkoek op Munsterhuis, Public Relations & Press Officer at Demcon, Tel: +31 (0)88 11 52 000.
Also see www.scinus.com or follow Scinus at Linkedin.