Every month, MassBio spotlights a member company and the great work they’re doing to advance the life sciences industry and support the patients we serve. This month we spoke with Allen C. Eaves, President & CEO of STEMCELL Technologies, and founding Director of the Terry Fox Laboratory for Hematology/Oncology Research, which he grew over a 25 year period (1981–2006) into an internationally recognized centre for the study of leukemia and stem cell research. Following his retirement from the University of British Columbia in 2006, Eaves shifted his focus to building several companies he had founded to further the fields of cellular therapy and regenerative medicine – STEMCELL Technologies, STEMSOFT Software Inc., and Malachite Management Inc.
Tell us about your organization and your current initiatives.
STEMCELL Technologies is a biotechnology company that develops specialty cell culture media, cell separation systems, accessory products, and scientific services for life science researchers globally. Our mission is to advance the pursuit of scientific knowledge by supplying high quality, innovative reagents, tools, and services that enable life science research. We work hard to maintain strong links to academia and industry so that we remain at the cutting edge of science and technology. Listening to other scientists and seeking better ways to help them is our highest priority.
How does your organization’s activities help patients now and into the future?
STEMCELL’s role is to help researchers who are trying to help patients by understanding disease and developing treatments and cures. We do this by providing tools and services that allow scientists to work more efficiently and effectively.
Our primary focus is to ensure that our products enable the collection of accurate, reproducible data, which ultimately allows treatments to reach the clinic faster. We invest heavily in raw materials screening and quality control to ensure that all of our products are standardized, of hiqh quality, and robust, with minimal batch-to-batch variation.
We are also working to ensure that our products are able to support research that is on a clinical path. Several of our products are already produced in GMP (Good Manufacturing Practices)-certified facilities, making them suitable for bench-to-bedside research.
Another way we support the advancement of science is by developing new technologies. A great example of this is our organoids research program. Organoids are three-dimensional cellular cultures that have vast applications in areas such as developmental biology, regenerative medicine, disease research, and drug toxicity and efficacy testing. Our Research and Development team is working with experts around the world to make organoid culturing technologies commercially available.
What do you see as the biggest challenge facing the life sciences industry today?
One of the biggest challenges that we face is the standardization of raw materials that go into our final products. In research, biological variability presents an enormous challenge, and the key to producing meaningful experimental data is to control as many confounding variables as possible. To ensure that our products never add variability to research, we spend a lot of time finding good, reliable suppliers for raw materials and auditing their quality management systems.
What’s next for your organization / what are you focused on in the coming year?
When I started STEMCELL 25 years ago, stem cell research was fairly new and still quite far from moving into clinical practice. Since our products were only being used at the research bench and not in human patients, we had fewer regulatory hurdles to overcome, which meant that we could be quick and nimble when developing and releasing new technologies to advance the field. Indeed, this still applies to a vast number of the tools that we provide. However, in recent years we’ve seen massive breakthroughs in the clinical applications of stem cells. This means that we’ve had to shift our manufacturing practices to produce some of our more clinically relevant products in GMP-certified facilities.
So, what is next for STEMCELL is the construction of a very large advanced manufacturing facility in Burnaby, Canada. This project was recently supported by a joint $45M grant from the Canadian Federal Government and the Provincial Government of British Columbia. This new facility will enable our products to cover the entire translational path.
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