Opexa claims preclinical technology can generate monocyte-derived islet cells from blood cells.

Novartis is paying Opexa Therapeutics $4 million for a novel stem cell technology currently in preclinical development. The deal includes a $3 million up-front fee and an additional $1 million in technology transfer fees that will be paid over six months.

Opexa says that total payments including future milestones could top $50 million before royalties. Novartis will be responsible for carrying out and funding all future research, development, and commercialization activities.

The adult stem cell technology is designed to enable the production of monocyte-derived stem cells (MDSC) from blood. Opexa says early data has shown that the technology can potentially generate monocyte-derived islet cells from peripheral blood mononuclear cells.

Opexa is focused on the development of patient-specific cellular therapies for the treatment of autoimmune diseases including multiple sclerosis (MS) and diabetes. The company’s lead product is Tovaxin, a T-cell MS vaccine that is specifically tailored to each patient’s disease profile. In October 2008 the company reported positive top-line results from a Phase IIb study in early, relapsing MS patients.

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