Stemgent: Supplying Advanced Technologies and Research Tools to the Stem Cell Research Industry




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Video title: Stemgent: Supplying Advanced Technologies and Research Tools to the Stem Cell Research Industry
Released on: August 26, 2008. © PharmaVentures Ltd
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In this interview, Fintan Walton talks to Ian Ratcliffe, CEO of Stemgent - an early stage company based in Cambridge, Massachusetts. This programme explores the genesis of the idea for the company as well as the origins of funding through venture capital backing. Ian Ratcliffe explains his vision for the company’s future and discusses the need for small companies to set achievable scientific standards. He also touches on the benefits of working within a new and fast-paced scientific discipline.
The genesis of the idea for the company and involvement in stem cell research.
Fintan Walton:
Hello and welcome to PharmaVentures business review here live in San Diego, California. On this show I have Ian Ratcliffe, who is CEO of Stemgent based in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Welcome to the show.
Ian Ratcliffe:
Thank you.
Fintan Walton:
Ian Ratcliffe, Stemgent as I said is an early stage company. It was founded in January of this year 2008. What is Stemgent all about?
Ian Ratcliffe:
So that's correct. We started January 2008 a new research products company focused on servicing the needs of the stem cell research industry. Company, the genesis of the company was some ideas that I had coming out of my background from Upstate Biotechnology which was a success with stem cell, cell signaling research company.
Fintan Walton:
Sure.
Ian Ratcliffe:
And scientist here in San Diego, Sheng Ding who had suggested some ideas for products that we might sell would improve the quality of stem cell research.
Fintan Walton:
Okay. So obviously stem cell research is an involving, rapidly growing scientific area that you felt presumably those are the unmet market need --?
Ian Ratcliffe:
Absolutely, the pace at which stem cell science is moving is breath taking.
Fintan Walton:
Sure.
Ian Ratcliffe:
This year particularly the discovery of reprogramming a couple of years ago and a lots of new science around how to do that in the last couple of years is moving the field strong – at an extraordinary pace. Just as an -- for instance the international stem cell research meeting that I attended last week in Philadelphia. The previous year had under 2000 attendees, this year had well over 3000 attendees and there were some remarkable talks and breakthrough technology being talked about everyday. So there was a – there is an unmet need just because the pace of which the science is moving means that there is a continuous need for high quality reagents to reproduce these experiment.
Collaborations and funding through venture capitals.
Fintan Walton:
Right. And these high quality reagents you started the company as we all said January 2008 and within six months –
Ian Ratcliffe:
We are now selling products.
Fintan Walton:
You are actually selling products?
Ian Ratcliffe:
We are now selling products. We have – we have a few products on our website now, we will continuously introduce new products every week from now on hopefully for a very, very long period of time. Most of these products are licensed in from the leading laboratories in the field, and our idea – our idea and aim here is to enable scientist to at least reproduce those experiments and then potentially take them further by adding their own elements to it. So in the Kits we, what we selling to customers you know you may have the medium or small molecules to reprogram a cell and then you may want to differentiate that cell into something else and at that point you would need some other molecules that you might provide yourself or buy from us or other companies.
Fintan Walton:
So it's very much a requirement for collaborations are really important?
Ian Ratcliffe:
Absolutely. One of the reasons we are located at San Diego and in – and in Cambridge, Massachusetts is proximity to where we've licensed the technology. This is complicated technology, it is multi-faceted and multi-disciplined, it involves cell biology, molecular biology, chemistry, the bio materials and extracellular matrices and integrating these products into a Kit is not as easy as just you know simple Western Blotting or some of the other techniques so making these into products that work together requires some real effort and that needs guidance from these laboratories as I say from the fact from the – from the license sourced laboratories.
Fintan Walton:
And obviously tapping into the cluster is an important part of --?
Ian Ratcliffe:
Yeah absolutely, not only for sourcing the ideas and the technology itself but also tapping into the talent pool of scientist who actually can do these experiments. This is not, you know this is – this science is relatively new and there are relatively small number of people who are very competent in these experiments and being able to recruit those individuals from, from institutions is extremely important to us and we have a number of those people already working for us.
Fintan Walton:
So the company is venture capital backed?
Ian Ratcliffe:
It is.
Fintan Walton:
And you've obviously raised money just recently?
Ian Ratcliffe:
We've raised money from healthcare ventures and we are just closing the second round right now with healthcare and another large VC firm.
Service component business and working along with other key stemcell companies.
Fintan Walton:
For a company like yours which is a research Kit very specialist company, do you – is the business model you mentioned the collaboration, in licensing the products themselves, but clearly there are other opportunities for a company like yours working very closely with the key stem cell companies themselves who are trying to develop the product?
Ian Ratcliffe:
Yeah. So, so we are also, we are taking license technologies, we're synthesizing them together, so we might take small molecules from one license, we would take some media formulation from somewhere else, an extra cell in the matrix from somewhere else and put them into a kit. We are also interested of course working with biopharmaceutical companies in developing you know technologies that they would need specifically for drug screening or assaying or developing you know stem cell, cell based therapies that would of course be an interest to us, focusing on only doing the research element of this, not doing any therapeutic applications ourselves.
Fintan Walton:
Right. So you will sell kits but you could also have a service component business --?
Ian Ratcliffe:
Absolutely, service component the business and that was the business I was in before in as I said Upstate we are very well known for kinase drug screening and you know I can foresee doing similar things in this space.
Priority focus on stem cell.
Fintan Walton:
Right. Now, for a company like yours growing that business obviously you described how you're going to grow that company through, through collaborations and so forth. But at what stage do you consider then moving out of stem cell and into other areas, would you be tempted to that --?
Ian Ratcliffe:
I don't think so, I believe that stem cell technology is so nascent and so new that the requirement for us to go outside of this space would be relatively limited for quite a few years.
Fintan Walton:
Yeah.
Ian Ratcliffe:
I can imagine that we would this market will grow enormously and that we will be able to grow very quickly with it and I think being staying focused and staying knowing your customer base and knowing your sources is very, very important to small companies and even when they get bigger, I think staying focused is very important. So I can imagine, but I imagine the science will take us into lots of other areas you know cancerstem cells you can imagine.
Fintan Walton:
Sure.
Ian Ratcliffe:
Much of the small molecule technology behind reprogramming the cells for instance relates to kinases and kinases inhibitors and histone deacetylases inhibitors and methylation other areas of science that, that – what we are familiar with and familiar with from our previous life and you know could imagine us being serious contenders in too.
Stemgent's future expanision plans outside US and setting up scientific standards.
Fintan Walton:
Okay and the markets that you, you serve obviously you said, you've sold products already. Are they – is that just in the United States?
Ian Ratcliffe:
Yes, we are we will be selling internationally, but we – we've currently you know are operations direct to concerned customer are in the United States.
Fintan Walton:
Right. But presumably you would also have to expand?
Ian Ratcliffe:
Absolutely Asia. This is a completely a world market, in fact stem cell science I would argue in the recent articles to back this statement up is bigger outside of the US than it is within the US for some obvious you know factual and regulatory reasons.
Fintan Walton:
Sure.
Ian Ratcliffe:
But that will change I think and as you know America is still doing the lion's share of – of a lot of that really great science in this space but it's a truly international field and much of the – you know the great technologies are with the United States. The reprogram of cells was discovered by Shinya Yamanaka in Japan and obviously you know there is a lot of knowledge and technology there too.
Fintan Walton:
So, it looks like Stemgent is gonna be a very interesting company to follow over the next few years?
Ian Ratcliffe:
I certainly hope so and I hope to, with my management team to lead it there.
Fintan Walton:
Excellent. You've also got an advisory board, which is made up of quite number of elements?
Ian Ratcliffe:
We have very, very significant stem cell scientists who are extremely active in guiding us towards you know particular products, Rudolf Jaenisch, Robert Langer, Bob Weinberg, Gordon Keller, Douglas Melton all joined us and has several others too to help us differentiate –to decide in what our product portfolio should look like, and also set the standard. The most important thing about that could be that they set the standard for the science, it's not good enough to work in their lab, and either argue it's not good enough for anybody else. So that's very important to a company particularly a new company to set the scientific standards they have to meet and that's important to us.
Fintan Walton:
Okay. Well Ian Ratcliffe, thank you very much indeed for coming on the show. And we look forward to following Stemgent going into the future. Thank you very much.
Ian Ratcliffe:
Thank you very much.
Ian Ratcliffe
Chief Executive Officer
Mr. Ian Ratcliffe, President and CEO of Stemgent Inc., was recently made a Non-Executive Director of Asterand, supplier of human tissue and human tissue-based research services. Since August 2006 he has held the position of Chairman/Owner of Enzymatics, a large scale enzyme production company. Prior to this he held various executive roles in UpstateBiologicals, including Chief Financial Officer (1997-2001) and Executive Vice President of Sales and Innovation, responsible for US and Asian sales. He was made President and Chief Operations Officer in 2004. During his time as President, Mr. Ian Ratcliffe was instrumental in the acquisition of Upstate by Serologicals, Corp. in September 2004 and was retained as President of the Upstate Division until May 2005. Ian Ratcliffe gained his first degree in Chemical Engineering from the University of Surrey, and received an MBA from Darden Graduate School of Business Administration, University of Virginia in 1994.
Stemgent
Stemgent, a life science consumable products company, was founded in January 2008 to service the needs of the stem cell research industry and to help in the advancement of stem cell science and regenerative medicine. Located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Stemgent benefits from its proximity to leading US research centres. Prominent researchers on the company's scientific advisory board help ensure that new discoveries and research results in this complex, cutting edge discipline are quickly available to the industry. Since the recent discovery of cell reprogramming the stem cell science industry has been expanding rapidly and although Stemgent currently supplies only US businesses, its intention is to expand into the world market in the next few years.