Israel-based biotech firm Kadimastem has signed into a new collaboration agreement with Merck’s biopharmaceutical division Merck Serono for drug screening in neurodegenerative diseases and multiple sclerosis (MS).
Kadimastem will use its proprietary technology to differentiate stem cells into oligodendrocytes. These are cells needed in the brain to produce myelin, which can be described as insulation for neural wiring. Oligodendrocytes are destroyed by the immune system in multiple sclerosis. Kadimastem will also use its technology for the production of stem-cell derived astrocytes, neural supporting cells which have been implicated in neurodegenerative disease. The company will screen compounds based on the myelin-producing cells and differentiated nerve supporting cells to identify which compounds exhibit efficacy in multiple sclerosis as well as in other neurodegenerative diseases.
Under the agreement, Merck Serono will make an upfront payment to Kadimastem as an initial fee with additional contingent payments based on the achievement of pre-specified milestones. No further financial terms of the agreement were disclosed by either company.
Kadimastem CEO Yossi Ben-Yossef applauded the renewal of the relationship between the companies through the new partnership. Prof. Michel Revel, Kadimastem’s CSO, said that the new collaboration with Merck validates Kadimastem’s technology for producing nerve-supporting cells and myelin-producing cells. Dr. Revel added, “We are convinced that the screening assays we are conducting using these cells are accurate, sensitive, and reproducible. Our technology enables discovery of chemical agents that could lead to a new generation of drugs for treating diseases that seriously damage the central nervous system, such as MS and ALS, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.”
Merck Serono and Kadimastem have previously collaborated in a similar project back in April 2012. The companies further advanced their relationship with the signing of a memorandum of agreement in November of last year for the establishment of drug screening assays using stem-cell derived astrocytes.