Historically, medicine has found few effective therapeutic strategies for biologically complex degenerative diseases. Stem cells offer an unusually powerful new therapeutic platform to treat some of the largest and fastest growing unsolved problems in medicine through the use of healthy and functional human cells to address the underlying mechanisms of complex disease. Asterias' platform technology is grounded in the intellectual property, materials, and scientific know-how required to develop therapies for degenerative diseases based on pluripotent stem cells.
Stem cells are characterized by their ability to both reproduce themselves and to differentiate into functional tissues, foundational properties that enable their use as the starting material for manufacture of cellular therapeutics to address complex disease. Pluripotent stem cells are the most potent type of stem cells; they have the ability to differentiate into any human cell type and to reproduce indefinitely. This functionality makes pluripotent stem cells an especially powerful candidate for cell therapies, because they can be tailored for specific treatments and manufactured at scale. Pluripotent stem cells should not be confused with "adult" stem cells, which reside naturally in the body but have a finite capacity for reproduction and differentiation.
The first type of human pluripotent stem cells isolated were "human embryonic stem cells" (hES cells). These cells were isolated by Dr. James Thomson at the University of Wisconsin. The first clinical trial of a hES cell-based product was initiated by Geron in 2010. Many of the original researchers involved in that trial have joined Asterias to continue the development of the pluripotent stem cell platform. Our current efforts relating to our pluripotent stem cell platform are focused on developing AST-OPC1 (hES cell-derived neural cells) for the treatment of spinal cord injury and other neurodegenerative diseases, and AST-VAC2 (hES cell-derived immunotherapy) for cancer.