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Stemcell Technologies acquires Propagenix to treat chronic diseases and genetic disorders

The acquisition is a step toward helping Canada stay at the forefront of regenerative medicine.

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Stemcell Technologies, Canada’s largest biotechnology company, has announced its acquisition of Propagenix, a U.S.-based regenerative medicine company. With Propagenix’s technology, Stemcell plans to advance research and develop clinical applications to treat chronic diseases and genetic disorders. The acquisition is a bright spot for the technology, given reports that both public and private funding in Canada for regenerative medicine continues to lag behind other major countries. 

Why Propagenix?

Since its founding in 2014, Propagenix has developed and commercialized engineered tissue solutions. This includes its patented Epix technology, a stem cell culture medium that can help replace a patient’s damaged barrier tissues, like skin and intestinal tissues. Stemcell will also own the licence to Conditional Reprogramming, a cell culture method that lets scientists grow tumors and healthy tissue in lab settings for research purposes, which could contribute to personalized medical care.

In 2017, Stemcell licensed the rights to Epix for research use. Now that Stemcell owns all of Propagenix’s assets and intellectual property, the company hopes for big advancements in scientific research — in both labs and clinical settings — for the treatment of cancer, airway diseases, and other disorders. 

“With Propagenix’s technology, Stemcell looks forward to supporting scientists who are advancing research and developing clinical applications to ultimately create better health outcomes for patients being treated for certain diseases,” said Allen Eaves, president and CEO of Stemcell.

Why the acquisition matters

Canada has a strong and long-standing reputation in regenerative medicine, beginning in the 1960s with the discovery of stem cells by doctors James Till and Ernest McCulloch.

Till and McCulloch’s legacy has paved the way for researchers to make additional, significant discoveries in regenerative medicine and foster a collaborative culture across the sector. Both factors have helped Canada stay at the forefront for decades.

At the same time, funding opportunities in Canada — and consequently research and development — have been slow to catch up when compared to the U.S., U.K., Japan, South Korea, and Singapore. This is in part due to the federal government investing significantly less in comparison, driving experts to call for a long-term funding strategy.

The impact of regenerative medicine

Unlike conventional treatments, regenerative medicine can potentially treat or cure underlying diseases and disorders, replacing the need for oversubscribed organ donations and transplants.

Notable success stories include Tina Ceroni, who was diagnosed with the rare stiff-person syndrome. Between 2005 and 2007, Ceroni was admitted to hospital 47 times, leading her to give up her business and depend on her family for support. In 2011, Ceroni underwent stem cell treatment at the Ottawa Hospital. The disease has since gone into complete remission and Ceroni remains healthy.

Regenerative medicine also offers opportunities to transform Canada’s healthcare systems. Some ways experts have noted include improving patient outcomes and quality of life, reducing medication costs, and creating new skilled jobs. 

What’s next?

Investors, economists, and health policy experts are betting regenerative medicine will be the next frontier of modern medicine. 

In recent years, the federal government has acknowledged that the sector is a top priority, building on its investment of $4.3 million in 2020 through the Stem Cell Network, a non-profit working in the field.

As for the next decade, the Institute of Health Economics (IHE) predicts that the sector will grow significantly and that Canada is equipped to continue to play a major role, while boosting the economy. In a report, the IHE suggested that if Canada were to capture only five percent of the projected USD $77 billion market, this could represent over CAD $5 billion in potential growth, which translates to more than 6,000 additional jobs.

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