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Posted: September 10, 2015 at 1:42 pm

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Stemcentrx scientists working with targeted molecules that can kill some types of lung cancer. MIT Tech Review Image.

A stem cell biotech in the news this week was one thathad mostly flown under the radar previously.

Stemcentrx hasa focus on killing cancer stem cells as a novel approach to treating cancer. Antonio Regalado had a nice articleyesterday on the company. He reports that Stemcentrx has around a half a billion in funding. It is valued in the billions. These are very unusual figures for a stem cell biotech.

Stemcentrx isdeveloping novel cancer therapeutics such as antibodies that target cancer stem cells. Their development pipeline at least in part uses a model of serial xenograft tumor transplantation in mice.Cancer stem cells are also sometimes called tumor initiating cells (TIC). As a cancer stem cell researcher myself, I find Stemcentrx intriguing.

The company published an encouraging bit of preclinical data recently in Science Translational Medicinewith a team of authors including leading company scientist, Scott Dylla. In this paper the team presented evidence that they have a product in the form of a loaded antibody (conjugated to a toxin) against a molecule called DLL3 important to TIC biological function and survival. DLL3 is part of the Notch signaling pathway. Stay tuned tomorrow for my interview with Dr. Dylla.

They showed that this anti-DLL3 antibody,SC16LD6.5, exhibited anti-tumor activities in xenograft models of pulmonary neuroendocrine tumors such as small cell lung cancer. The company also has a clinical trial ongoing but not currently recruiting using this drug, and they have another trial for ovarian cancer based on antibody targeting as well.

SC16LD6.5 also exhibited some degree of toxicity in rats and a non-human primate model so thats a possible issue moving forward, but the toxic effects were at least partially reversible and when youre dealing with a deadly disease some toxicity for treatment is kind of to be expected.

Can Stemcentrx survive and hopefully even thrive as a company selling products that kill cancer stem cells? Well have a clearer picture on this in a few years, but in general biotechs of this type in this arena have a high failure rate. We need to keep in mind the long, sobering path ahead between these kinds of preclinical result and getting an approved drug to patients.

At the same time, this team has the money and talent to potentially succeed, and again, theres that half a billion in funding, which all by itself makes this stem cell biotech noordinary company. Theres another unique thing going on here: famed tech investor Peter Thiel is one of the major funders of the company.

Those of us in the cancer stem cell field have long been engaged in the debate overwhether these special cells exist in specific solid tumors and their functions in tumorigenesis. I believe they are present and important in some, but not all of such tumors. The controversial nature of TICs in lung cancer specifically makes SC16LD6.5 a high-risk, high reward kind ofproduct.

More weapons against lung cancer will be of coursea good thing and targeting cancer stem cells is an innovative approach. The company isrecruiting for many positions including scientists so if you are interested take a look.

I hope Stemcentrx succeeds and I look forward to reading more of their work as the years go by.

The winner of the inaugural Ogawa-Yamanaka Prize is Dr. Masayo Takahashi, MD, PhD.

According to the Gladstone Institutepress release, Dr. Takahashi was awarded the prize for her trailblazing work leading the first clinical trial to use induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells in humans.

The prize, including a $150,000 cash award, will be given at a ceremony next week at the Gladstone on September 16. If you are interested in listening in, you can register for the webcast here.

Dr. Takahashi started the first ever human clinical study using iPS cells, which is focused on treating of macular degeneration using retinal pigmented epithelial cells derived from human iPS cells.

Congratulations to Dr. Takahashi for the great and well-deserved honor of the Ogawa-Yamanaka Prize.

As readers of this blog likely recall, Dr. Takahashi received our blogsStem Cell Person of the Year Award last year in honor of her pioneering work and that included a $2,000 prize.

Otherpast winners of our Stem Cell Person of the Year Award have gone on to get additional awards too.

The 2013 Stem Cell Person of the Year, Dr. Elena Cattaneo, went on to win the ISSCR Public Service Award in 2014 along with colleagues.

And our 2012 Stem Cell Person of the Year Award winner, stellar patient advocateRoman Reed, went on in 2013 to receive the GPI Stem Cell Inspiration Award.

The more we can recognize the pioneers and outside-the-box thinkers in the stem cell field, the better.

I recently ran a poll on my blog about how the FDA is doing on handling stem cell clinics.

There is substantial debate in the stem cell arena about how the FDA handles stem cell clinics ranging from the view that the agency is far too strict to excessively lenient.

The results of the poll reflect a great deal of dissatisfaction with the job that the FDA is doing on stem cell clinics.

Only 9% of respondents felt that the FDA is currently do things just about right.

While the top 2 answers were polar extremes, by a large margin the top answer was that the FDA was much too lenient.

Although Internet polls of this kind are not scientific, they can reflect sentiments of a community.

Science can come in various forms ranging from numbers to words to images.

In the stem cell field, some of the images can be particularly striking. One of my own favorites is the one above that I took some years ago of differentiation of neural stem cells that ended up on the cover of my first book.

Do you have a favorite stem cell-related image?

Im doing a stem cell image contest.

The winner receives a $100 prize and their image will be posted here along with a blurb on their research.

If more than one entry is particularly amazing, I may give out more than one prize.

The rules are straightforward. Anyone can enter whether you are in academia or industry.

Email me your favorite stem cell-related image (knoepflerATucdavisDOTedu). The image must be your own. Team entries are allowed.

By entering the contest you agree that the image may be posted on this stem cell blog.

The deadline is September 30th at midnight USA PDT.

As readers of this blog may recall, I have a garden where I grow a variety of plants every year. One year I had quite a few sunflowers and ever since I have volunteer sunflowers popping up that have all kinds of interesting traits. The neighborhood squirrels collected hundreds of sunflower seeds and buried some as a cache. Some of those survived and sprouted new sunflowers.and so on every year.

Ive noticed that each of the sunflowers becomes its own microcosm with thousands of bugs.

Predominantly each sunflower is colonized by ants, which farm aphids on them. However, other bugs live there too including some amazing praying mantises that hunt bees once they grow large enough.

You can see one at left from a past year. I thought to myself, Youre never going to catch a bee, but that mantis was big and fearless and there were a lot of bees.

This year Ive been following an interesting, very large yellow-green spider (anyone know what type it is?) who lives on a sunflower in the garden.

The spider hung out on the flower head too just like the mantises of past years. See below and look at the top of the sunflower. The spider almost looks like a crab. On the opposite side is a ladybug down around 6 oclock.

I wondered if the spider was hunting some insect attracted to the sunflower. Bees like the mantis? It isa very big spider so I was guessing it was eating well on something.

A few days later I took a look again and was impressed to see that the spider had caught a big bee.

What a meal!

Im still not sure on how the spider did it since it doesnt seem to be a web spinner. It must have been an ambush attack with maybe a quick loop of silk around the bee and some powerful venom.

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