Fri, Oct 17, 2003 - Page 11 News List

Cell therapy firms focus on Taiwan

RESEARCH OPPORTUNITIES A US company has found a Taiwanese partner to work on cancer fighting technology, as a Canadian firm looks for a similar link

By Bill Heaney  /  STAFF REPORTER

Two North American cell-therapy research start-ups were in Taipei yesterday to secure more capital for research and to license out technology to local companies.

Taiwan is the ideal location to find partnerships in the field due to the number of talented scientists working here, officials from the companies and the government said yesterday.

"Taiwan's strengths are in its medical community and clinical research," said Johnsee Lee (李鍾熙), president of the Biomedical Engineering Center at the Industrial Technology Research Institute

(工研院).

"Now we need to move from science to business," Lee said.

Taiwan has shown that it is able to create world-class businesses in other areas, such as Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co (台積電) and United Microelectronics Corp (聯電), the world's largest manufacturers of custom-made computer chips, Lee said.

Lee was speaking at a press event held to announce a US$2.5 million investment by Xcyte Thera-pies, an American cell therapy research firm, in Taiwan Cell Therapy Co (台灣騰協生技).

Xcyte is transferring to Taiwan Cell Therapy a technology that activates long-living T-cells in the blood to fight cancers and blood-born viruses.

The Taiwanese team now plans to prepare the technique for the final stages of approval by the US Federal Drug Administration.

"Taiwan has moved faster, more aggressively and more decisively than its competitors," said Robert Nelson, managing director of Arch Venture Partners, a venture capital company that specializes in biotechnology companies.

"Taiwan Cell Therapy has the opportunity to dominate in a new industry segment. A therapy in cancer and viral diseases is a sure winner," Nelson said.

Taiwan Cell Therapy now needs to raise a further US$75 million to get through the expensive clinical trial stage.

A second cell therapy that uses stem cells in the gut to replicate proteins such as insulin for diabetics is also seeking investors.

"Proteins such as insulin are currently delivered by needles which are uncomfortable and lead to poor patient compliance," said Anthony Cheung, president of Vancouver-based EnGene.

"This does not replicate what bodies do," he said.

The company has also developed genetic "smart bombs" that fools solid cancer tumors into destroying themselves.

EnGene's protein production technique aims to treat the increasing problem of childhood obesity and the accompanying problem of diabetes which are reaching epidemic proportions.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that one-third of the world's children will develop diabetes.

EnGene is ultimately looking for US$8 million to fund clinical trials, but would also like to license its technology to Taiwanese companies that would like to apply the method in other areas, for example to create blood-clotting agents for hemophiliacs, or PYY hormones that tell the brain the stomach is full as a treatment for obesity.

"Cell therapy is a new technology that has a great future," Lee said. "Until now, if you were sick, there were only two therapies: drugs or surgery. Now there is also a new therapy -- cell therapy."

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