Written by Allen Caron
Regenerative medicine is a field involving the study of stem cells to regenerate or regrow cells and even entire body parts in humans, reestablishing normal function. Successes in regenerative medicine could help the entire medical field advance as previously chronic and incurable conditions may be reversible. Some estimates claim that as many as 1 in 3 Americans would be helped by regenerative medicine therapies.
Stem cells function as "master cells," which have the ability to become any other type of cell. Natural stem cells can be found in human cord blood and embryos. Stem cells can also be created through a "reprogramming" process, using blood and skin cells to create induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS). Recently, scientists at the Spanish National Cancer Research Center in Madrid were able to replicate human stem cells in mice, opening a new avenue for regenerative medicine. These cells may possess more plasticity and may be better able to differentiate into many more types of adult human cells than traditional iPS cells.
According to a recent article in Forbes, regenerative medicine could take 20 to 25 years to truly come to fruition. However, some regenerative medicine therapies are being used today, such as implementing stem cell therapies to repair knee joint damage. Many small cap companies operate in the field, helping to fuel progress in regenerative medicine.
Osiris Therapeutics, Inc. (Nasdaq:OSIR), based in Columbia, MD, manufactures mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs), which are typically created from bone marrow donations. The rapidly-grown MSCs can then be frozen for future patient use. Because MSCs are "attracted" to the damaged or diseased area, the cells can be introduced into a patient's body through injection or intravenous methods. Osiris markets Prochymal, which was approved in Canada in May 2012. It is currently undergoing Phase III clinical trials in the US for acute graft versus host disease and Crohn's disease. OSIR closed September 30th at $16.64, up $0.15, with a market cap of $550.31 million. Its 52-week trading range is $6.55 - $27.40.
Rockville, MD-based Neuralstem, Inc. (NYSE:CUR) uses their patented technology to produce neural stem cells based on the human brain and spinal cord. They currently have three FDA-approved trials: a Phase II trial on their NSI-566 therapy for treatment of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a Phase I trial for the same therapy for chronic spinal cord injury and a Phase Ib trial of their NSI-189 therapy to treat major depressive disorder (MDD). By using stem cells derived from site-specific areas of the body, these cells may already be suited for the type of treatment they are expected to provide. CUR closed September 30th at $2.71, down $0.10, with a market cap of $192.74 million. Its 52-week trading range is $0.88 - $3.02.
One important element of stem cell research is the ability to preserve and store the cells until needed. BioLife Solutions, Inc. (OTCMKTS:BLFS), based in Bothell, WA, creates cGMP-grade bio-preservation media for blood, organs and cells, including stem cells. BioLife recently signed an agreement with SAVSU Technologies, Inc to market SAVSU's thermal packaging products. Temperature stability is a significant piece of the biologistics - the logistics of transporting cells and tissues - puzzle. BLFS closed September 30th at $0.795, no change for the day, with a market cap of $58.13 million. Its 52-week trading range is $0.13 - $0.88.
Health care investors interested in new opportunities in interesting sectors may wish to seek out small caps in the regenerative medicine arena. Although it may be some time before comprehensive regenerative medicine therapies are available on a widespread scale, these cutting-edge companies are making scientific advances that could become quite important. With breakthroughs in stem cell research and creation occurring frequently, investment in these new health technologies may well provide future growth.
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