A company offering a flexible encapsulation technology that can transport cells without specialist cryopreservation is expanding from animal to human health.

Likarda, which was spun out of the University of Kansas in 2000, says it has developed an encapsulation technology that allows cells and biologics to be transported in dry ice, and provides a longer-acting drug product. The company notes that it has previously offered the core-shell spherification (CSS) technology to veterinary clients but is now moving into the field of advanced therapies.

“CSS is an established technology that we’ve been using for over seven years, but due to trends in the industry, now’s the right time to move into human health,” explains Stella Vnook, PhD, the company’s recently-appointed CEO.

Vnook joined Likarda in September after becoming a fan of the CSS technology. While running a company in the CAR-T space, she faced issues of CAR-T efficacy on solid tumors due to the difficulty of keeping NK and T cells on target.

“When I met [founder] Lisa and the team, I realized they were able to encapsulate cells without causing an immune reaction and they stayed on the solid tumor as long as needed,” she says, adding that the technology can also be used to transport cell therapies on dry ice, rather than requiring nitrogen storage. “I saw a slide about Likarda doing stem cell therapies for arthritis in horses, and delivering the therapy across Canada in dry ice, and I was mesmerized.”

Replacement for alginates

According to president and founder Lisa Stehno-Bittel, PhD, CSS technology is a replacement for the alginates used to encapsulate cells, such as the islet cells transplanted to treat type 1 diabetes. When sprayed into a bath, these alginates instantly form beads around the cells. However, they have the disadvantage of being made from seaweed, which causes immune reactions in patients, points out Stehno-Bittel.

In contrast, CSS forms an instant hard shell that gives time for other substances, such as polyethylene glycol (PEG) hydrogels, to harden around the cell. The hydrogels can be impregnated with growth factors to help promote the survival of CAR-T cells. The CSS, meanwhile, can be removed once the hydrogel has hardened—or after transporting the cells to a new location.

“What Likarda has demonstrated with the CSS platform is that you can remove the -195 degrees liquid nitrogen freezing [and defrosting], which costs time, [cells and money],” says Vnook.

CSS is due to be used in a human osteoarthritis product in 2024. The company subsequently hopes to use its technology on a wide variety of molecules, including longer-lasting drugs.

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