Splitting firm will allow parent Plasticell to focus on generating revenues from its CombiCult platform.

U.K. stem cell differentiation specialist Plasticell has spun out its regenerative drug discovery unit into a new company, Progenitor Labs. Progenitor has been assigned all rights to Plasticell’s ProScreen™ technology (formerly known as CombiScreen™) for screening libraries of small molecule drugs against physiologically relevant stem/progenitor cells, and has an exclusive license to its parent’s flagship Combinatorial Cell Culture™ (CombiCult™) platform for creating progenitor cells for use in ProScreen.

“At this point in Plasticell’s development, the technology and therapeutics units of the company have very different business models and capital requirements,” notes Yen Choo, Ph.D., Plasticell founder. “Segregating the two businesses will allow Plasticell to focus on growing revenue, while Progenitor Labs can more aggressively progress the development of its regenerative drug discovery platform.”

Plasticell specializes in using massively parallel screens to differentiate stem cells. The high-throughput CombiCult platform effectively tests millions of random combinations of cell culture variables in parallel to discover optimal laboratory protocols for the differentiation of adult or pluripotent stem cells. The platform can be applied to all types of stem cells including embryonic and adult stem cells, Plasticell notes.

In order to multiplex millions of cell culture experiments, the experimental unit is effectively miniaturized by growing colonies of cells on the surface of microscopic beads, which are then shuffled randomly through differentiation media. A key step in the CombiCult process is to label the microcarriers with a unique tag each time they are exposed to a different culture medium, so the movement of the cell unit through the different media can be inferred by analyzing the associated tags.

In October 2010 Plasticell launched its upgraded CombiCult system, featuring new custom-built disposable stem cell culture labware that allows all bead manipulations and media changes to be carried out in a single device. The upgraded workflow also features integrated modules for automated bead sorting and fluorescent label deconvolution.

In November 2010, the firm signed separate agreements with UCB and with Sigma-Aldrich. Under terms of the UCB collaboration, Plasticell is using the CombiCult technology to screen UCB’s libraries of compounds with known biological targets for the discovery of new cell-signalling pathways involved in stem cell biology and tissue regeneration.

The collaboration with Sigma-Aldrich is harnessing the latter’s CompoZr® zinc finger nuclease technology to engineer various human stem cell lines so that their differentiation into specific mature cells can be tracked via fluorescent reporters integrated directly into developmentally expressed genes. Plasticell will then use these cell lines in its CombiCult system for developing stem cell differentiation protocols.

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