Ever since Shinya Yamanaka introduced the revolutionary results from his research into induced pluripotent stem cells, or iPS cells, to a stunned room of scientists at the annual meeting of the International Society for Stem Cell Research in June 2006 (a research for which he would be awarded a Nobel prize later in 2012), the advances in iPS basic research have been astonishing. The cells promised to be revolutionary in the field of regenerative medicine: researchers might take a person’s cells (skin cells, blood cells, etc), reprogram them into iPS cells, and then use those to grow other types of cells such as neurons, liver cells, or whatever was needed to treat a disease. In addition, this therapy would reduce the risk of immune rejection and avoid the ethical concerns of using cells from human embryos.
However the move from basic research to actual clinical therapies has been slow to materialize. This should come as no surprise since it is believed that it generally takes 20 years from the initial scientific discovery to clinical and commercial adoption. This may be about to change given the number of new startups with innovative applications of iPS cells. One of this startups is Kyoto-based Megakaryon Corp. who claims to have developed the world’s first method for mass-producing blood platelets from iPS cells. Platelets are, until now, made from donated blood and are used to minimize bleeding.
The new technology is based on research from Professor Hiromitsu Nakauchi of the University of Tokyo, and Professor Koji Eto of Kyoto University. The company is actively securing the exclusive rights to the use of the technology and some patents have been issued already in multiple countries. Megakaryon expects to get approval to sell and distribute the product in Japan and the US by 2020.
One of the most powerful global mega-trends is the social and demographic transformation brought about by aging and low birth rates in the developed world among other factors. Given this trend, there is serious concern about the future availability of platelets provided through donations. Megakaryon expects to fill this gap in supply and meet about 10% of total demand.
Megakaryon is basically a private company and although it has been through a number of privately-run funding rounds it still remains out of reach for the average investor. We will keep the company in our Watch List and update regularly on new developments.