Israeli biotechnology company Kadimastem (TASE: KDST) has signed a collaboration agreement with Merck to carry out drug screening in the neurodegenerative diseases space for multiple sclerosis (MS), and potential other neurodegenerative diseases. Kadimastem will utilize its unique platform for Merck Serono, the biopharmaceutical division of Merck, for the screening of new compounds as potential new therapeutics.
Kadimastem has developed a technology to differentiate stem cells into oligodendrocytes, cells required in the brain to produce myelin, the insulation for the neural wiring. In MS, oligodendrocytes are destroyed by the immune system. Kadimastem is also equipped to generate stem cell-derived astrocytes. Astrocytes are neural supporting cells shown to be involved in neurodegenerative diseases. Within the collaboration, Kadimastem will screen compounds in proprietary assays based on these myelin-producing cells and differentiated nerve supporting cells, with the aim of identifying compounds with potential efficacy in MS, and potential effect in other neurodegenerative diseases.
The transaction is consistent with Kadimastem’s strategy to produce short term revenues and to develop closer ties with large international pharmaceutical companies for drug screening projects. Drug-screening will be performed with cells that Kadimastem produces routinely for its own cell-therapy products. Kadimastem’s drug-screening platforms comprising human cells can help to predict the potential a drug will eventually have to impact different cell types including oligodendrocytes.
Yossi Ben-Yossef, Kadimastem’s CEO, noted that “the collaboration with Merck strengthens the already fruitful relationship between the two companies and is a vote of confidence by Merck Serono in Kadimastem and its innovative technology. The fact that we recently signed a drug screening contract with another pharmaceutical giant is an indication of the scientific merit and maturity of our technology. This reflects an increased understanding that we have the ability to significantly contribute to the drug development process and to shorten timelines.”
Prof. Michel Revel, Kadimastem’s Chief Scientist, added that “the decision by Merck to sign an agreement with us for drug screening shows the excellence of the technology we have developed for creating myelin-producing cells and nerve-supporting cells. 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.
Upon signing of the agreement, Merck will pay Kadimastem an initial fee, and additional payments which are contingent on the achievement of certain milestones. Further financial details are not disclosed.
The collaboration agreement follows a previous agreement between both companies from 2012, and the signature of a memorandum of understanding in 2013 aimed at utilizing Kadimastem’s screening platform to characterize new compounds that may lead to next generation neurodegenerative disease therapeutics.