Japanese stem cell firm acquires Durham University spin-out Reinnervate Ltd

Combination of cells with technology developed in the North East could have huge implications for medical research and drug development

David Glen Walker Professor Stefan Przyborsk in his laboratory at Durham University
Professor Stefan Przyborsk in his laboratory at Durham University

Major advancements in medical research and drug toxicity testing could be heralded by the £2.5m acquisition of a Durham University spin-out.

Japanese company Reprocell, one of the world’s leading suppliers of stem cells, has bought Reinnervate Ltd, which produces a material that helps researchers in the field gain more accurate results.

The Yokohama-based group now intends to combine its cells with the technology developed in the North East to sell next-generation tools for drug toxicity testing, neuroscience and cancer research to the likes of academics, biochemical companies, pharmaceutical firms and Government researchers.

It will also invest in research facilities and new research studentships at the university, where Reinnervate founder and chief scientific officer, Professor Stefan Przyborski, will work with the company.

Prof Przyborkski, who specialises in cell technology in the university’s School of Biological and Biomedical Science, laid the foundations for his business after hitting some snags in his own research over 10 years ago.

Typically, stem cells have been studied on flat surfaces, causing the cells themselves to flatten out and lose the spherical shape they would normally have in the human body.

Hence, Prof Przyborkski and his colleagues created Alvetex, a polystyrene material that provides a base for growing cells into 3D structures, providing more accurate results and a reduction in the need for animal testing.

Founded in 2003 as a venture company originating from the universities of Tokyo and Kyoto, Reprocell has been a pioneer in its field.

As part of the Reinnervate acquisition, it has promised to invest in further research at Durham University’s laboratories into scaffolding structures that support 3D cell growth.

Prof Przyborski said: “Reprocell’s acquisition of Reinnervate and BioServe makes us part of a large international business at the cutting edge of cell technology and stem cell science and with a global distribution network.

“This is great news for biomedical research, for Durham University, and for economic development in North East England.”

He added that he was personally “very excited” about the development, which was unique in the sense that two companies were joining forces to provide a comprehensive solution to the problem of changes in stem cell shape.

“Also, scientists like to go to a company; they don’t want to go to an academic and then have to recreate everything themselves,” he said.

“They want something off the shelves, with instructions, and the way we do this is unique.”

Reinnervate has its headquarters at the North East Technology Park in Sedgefield, County Durham, a few miles from Durham University, where its research is still conducted.

The company’s products have a wide range of applications in drug discovery screening and academic research and are used by researchers in over 300 universities and companies globally.

Next year, Alvetex 3D cell culture technology will journey to the International Space Station for an experiment in growing bone cell cultures in zero gravity to investigate bone density during space flight.

Chief executive Richard Rowling, added: “We are delighted to become part of the Reprocell group of companies and look forward seeing Alvetex products combined with Reprocell’s advanced stem cell derived cell products.”

Chika Yokoyama, chief executive of Reprocell, said: “The Reprocell group of companies can now help the global scientific community move their basic and pre-clinical research towards more sustainable and physiologically relevant models.”

The acquisition represents the latest in a long line of success stories stemming from Durham University spin-outs, two of which - Kromek and Advanced Graphene Materials - have floated on the stock market within the past year.

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