- Stem cell therapy presents the promise of a cure for various diseases and disorders.
- Scinus Cell Expansion, developer of equipment for stem cell therapy, wants to make stem cell therapy accessible for large groups of patients
- Demcon acquired a share in Scinus to take a step with stem cell therapy
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. Also, 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.
Stem cell therapy requires large numbers of stem cells, up to half a billion. 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”, according to Michiel Jannink, Managing Director of Demcon medical systems, who has been acting as CEO of Scinus since the autumn of last year.
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.”
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 centres 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.”