Medtronic Stakes Position In Cardiac Stem-Cell Therapy

By Tonya Vinas Minneapolis-based medical products manufacturer Medtronic Inc., a $9.08 billion firm, is teaming up with biotech pioneer Genzyme Corp., $1.58 billion, to target the lucrative cardiac repair market and perhaps gain a leadership position in therapies derived from adult stem cells. The joint venture is of the type that has become commonplace in the life sciences industry: the teaming of a large, traditional manufacturer with a cutting-edge biotech company. But this union comes amid a continuing debate over the use of stem cells. Using embryonic stem cells for medical therapy and research has been essentially halted in the United States. Adult stem cells could offer an alternative. Medtronic brings to the table a leadership position in the heart care market as well as imaging and navigational technologies. Genzyme brings its expertise of cell-based therapies. The new company is called MG Biotherapeutics. Financial terms of the agreement were not disclosed. "We are enthusiastic about collaborating with Genzyme in an effort that we believe has the potential to change the way heart disease will be treated in the coming decades," says Stephen Oesterle, Medtronic's senior vice president of medicine and technology. "This collaboration builds on Medtronic's mission in treating chronic disease and its record of applying broad expertise in biomedical engineering to address some of the most pressing health problems. The initial results of cell therapy have been encouraging." Among other activities, the companies will co-fund Genzyme's ongoing Myoblast Autologous Graft in Ischemic Cardiomyopathy (MAGIC) Phase 2 clinical trial of cell therapy to repair damaged heart tissue. This trial, which is believed to be the largest and most advanced of its kind, is designed to determine whether cell therapies can be used to reverse damage done to cardiac muscle following a heart attack or to safely halt a patient's further progression of heart failure, a usually incurable condition affecting more than 20 million individuals worldwide. The Phase 2 clinical trial, under way in Europe, involves harvesting a patient's own skeletal muscle (myoblast) cells prior to bypass surgery through a small biopsy in the leg. These cells are multiplied many-fold in the laboratory using proprietary cell-culture techniques. The investigators then inject the cells into a damaged region of the heart during a coronary artery bypass operation. While the Phase 2 trial continues, the companies will work to develop a catheter-based system to deliver cells to the heart using Medtronic's TransAccess Delivery System. In addition to these efforts, MG Biotherapeutics will pursue a longer-range joint research program focused on potential next-generation cell therapy approaches, including the use of genetically modified cells, allogeneic cells (cells from a donor or cell bank) and advanced biomaterials designed to improve cellular engraftment and survival.

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