Thursday, February 25, 2010

Executive Spotlight: Jeffrey Janus, director and SVP of operations, International Stem Cell Corp., and president and CEO, Lifeline Cell Technology

Jeffrey Janus serves as director and senior vice president of operations of new CHI member International Stem Cell Corp. and president and chief executive officer of Lifeline Cell Technology, one of the company’s subsidiaries. International Stem Cell Corp. (ISCO.OB) is a publicly traded stem cell therapy company with research and manufacturing facilities in Oceanside, Calif., and Walkersville, Md. The company’s technology revolves around its discovery of a proprietary and unique class of stem cells called human parthenogenetic stem cells (hpSC). These cells have distinct medical, practical and ethical advantages over embryonic and adult stem cells. They allow immune-matched stem cells and therapeutic cells to be “banked” and available immediately for millions of patients who are in critical need and cannot wait to derive cells from their own bodies. In addition to Lifeline Cell Technology, the company has another subsidiary called Lifeline Skin Care.

Janus is trained in biochemistry and business management and has more than 20 years experience focused on cell-based businesses. He is a member of the team that discovered parthenogenesis and is published in the stem cell field. After joining International Stem Cell Corp., (ISCO) Janus subsequently founded Lifeline Cell Technology to meet a growing need for media and human cells in pharmaceutical drug screening, consumer product testing and basic research at universities and government laboratories and to provide revenue and operational infrastructure for ISCO. The CHI Blog recently caught up with Janus to find out the latest on the company.

Q: How did your company get started?
A: We started this company based on the work of Elena Revazova, M.D., Ph.D., a scientist well known in Russia who had a dream of curing diabetes using embryonic stem cells. She came to the United States to work and her talent and expertise in growing human cells was discovered by ISCO’s founders, who decided to form a company around her knowledge and skill. At the time, U.S. President [George W.] Bush was restricting the use of embryonic stem cells on ethical grounds, and there were also patent issues around embryonic stem cells, as there still are. We recognized that the ethical issue was important, but medially the most important problem with stem cell therapy was likely to be immune rejection. We realized we could address these issues by developing the technology called parthenogenesis and mitigate delays from funding and restrictions by working in Russia. So Dr. Revazova went back to Russia, and we set up a collaboration in Moscow to begin her work with parthenogenesis. Today our company has all of the intellectual property rights to parthenogenesis, a very powerful technology. We have also recently brought in Andrey Semechkin, Ph.D. as our CEO. Dr. Semechkin is a well-known scientist in the field of systems analysis and an accomplished businessman.

Q: How does parthenogenesis work?
A: It’s the derivation of stem cells from an unfertilized human egg. The ethical issue surrounding work with embryonic stem cells is caused by the fact that embryonic stem cells are derived from a fertilized embryo, which has the potential to be a human being. However, if you do not fertilize the egg and yet you can derive stem cells from it that are functional, you’re not destroying a viable human embryo—and that’s exactly what Dr. Revazova did. We perfected parthenogenesis and brought it back to the United States. As a result, we have been able to overcome the ethical issue surrounding using embryonic stem cells with parthenogenesis.

Q: What are your technology’s other advantages?
A: Parthenogenesis makes embryonic stem cells (or what we call parthenogenetic stem cells) that can be immune matched to millions of people. Using embryonic stem cells, the way they are currently made, is sort of like trying to do a bone marrow transplant between one person and another picked at random without making sure you have a match. If someone needs to have a bone marrow transplant, they usually go to brothers or sisters first and try to do an immune match. For a different set of reasons a similar situation exists with blood transfusions, although type O blood can be given to almost everyone. Our cells are similar in that the parthenogenic stem cells can be immune matched to many people, and that’s the unique quality of our cells.

Q: What are the biggest opportunities for your business going forward?
A: We are creating a bank of hpSC that are “pluripotent” and carry common immune types that will match a large percent of the U.S. population, and this is a huge opportunity. These will be clinical grade and will be made in our new manufacturing facility located in Oceanside, Calif. Our biggest opportunity is the potential ability of our stem cells to be universally utilized for therapy. Scientists across the world are working on embryonic stem cells and figuring out ways to make therapeutic cells such as liver cells or nerve cells for a whole host of diseases. Eventually these therapies will need a cell or process that will minimize immune rejection. Our cells can be immune matched to millions of persons and are thus a solution for this need. So in a way, much of the work that’s going on right now across the world with embryonic stem cells accrues to our benefit. In addition, we are focused in four distinct areas—diabetes, liver disease, retinal and corneal disease, and nerve disease. We are currently growing cells to cure corneal blindness and have actually grown cornea tissue. We’re working with the University of California, Irvine to grow cells with a retina for macular degeneration. We have grown cells that are very similar to liver cells that are also related to a cell type called beta cells, which may be useful for diabetes. Collaborations with companies and universities present strong opportunities, and we’ve collaborated with Novocell in San Diego to further our work with diabetes, and we’re collaborating with UC San Francisco to test our liver cells derived from our parthenogenic stem cells and with researchers in Germany to study nerve cells generated from our stem cells.

Q: Tell us a little bit about your subsidiaries.
A: One unique thing about our company is that we are a research-oriented biotech company that actually has income. One of our subsidiaries, Lifeline Cell Technology, is growing very nicely (with a 150 percent increase in sales over the last year) by selling research products to grow human cells and study human disease. Lifeline has more than 70 products and will be releasing more than a dozen more in 2010. Lifeline Skin Care was created in 2009 based on our discovery that derivatives from our parthenogenetic stem cell technology have proven to be beneficial to human skin. Lifeline Skin Care is developing several products and is beginning early-stage clinical trials with these skin products. We anticipate that these skin care products will help to generate income and fund our continuing stem cell therapeutic research.

Q: What are your company’s greatest accomplishments so far?
A. We have successfully created 10 human parthenogenetic stem cell lines, one which carries the most common immune type in the United States and matches over a hundred million persons across the world. We are a fast-growing company with more than 12 scientists working in various areas of therapy and product development. Our stem cells have proven to be able to create cells that may be useful in therapy, including liver-like cells, corneal cells, retinal cells, nerve cells and cell types that may ultimately be useful in the treatment of diabetes. We have set up collaborations with major universities and researchers across the world. The amazing thing about our company is that we have developed into a company that has manufacturing, products, sales, quality control, therapeutic research, and an accounting department in such a short time. We have all the workings of a fully functional product manufacturing and therapeutic research company. It amazes me that we are making sales, whereas most companies our size are basic research and development companies. We know how to make human cells and freeze, store and manipulate them so that they are clinical grade. I think our technology, our knowledge of cell culture and our ability to manufacture are three very strong reasons that we have been successful.

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