Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Business Challenges for Biobanks in iPSCs

This post was contributed by @MikeMadarasz

The business of banking induced pluripotent stem cell (iPSC) lines certainly has the potential to improve efficiency in cell line development.  The presence of a growing number of these iPSC banks online are proof of this potential, however these companies are still working to overcome some of the challenges posed by the business model of the industry. 

iPSCs are considered advantageous to some traditional cell engineering techniques because in practice, they simulate primary cells taken directly from test subjects very well.  They are, however, notorious for requiring a great deal of attention to maintain and store. 

Banking iPSCs can be a tricky business model
There's great opportunity in iPSCs 
About three years ago, the NIH’s Center for Regenerative Medicine launched a program lead by Mahendra Rao to deposit and distribute cell lines contributed by a network of biorepoistories.  Rao explained the model, something he referred to as “crowdsourcing”, as a quite successful.  Said Rao in a recent TheScientist.com article, “If you look worldwide, the largest number of lines that have been distributed have been from the U.S., from these nonprofit registries at which NIH has taken a leadership role in depositing the lines.”

The real question for these organizations becomes how to choose which lines to derive iPSCs as companies try to avoid holding onto a surplus that no one wants.  The biggest difficulty of this model has become trying to project not only which lines will be most in demand, but more profitable as well.  Economically, it makes the most sense for companies to concentrate on niche categories. 

Said Michael Yaffe, associate director for research activity at California Institute for Regenerative Medicine in the same TheScientist.com article, “We wanted to make as many [cell lines] as possible. Then it became an economic argument: How many could we afford and how much could we push a deriver to handle?” 

“If a few large pharmaceutical companies buy a complete set of all the lines, that would keep the bank established and running for many years,” continued Yaffe. “If academic researchers are going to buy a few lines at a time or a few lines each, it will create some challenges for the sustainability of the bank.”

Despite these difficulties, the field is projected to continue to grow.  Rao estimates there are between 200 and 250 lines in existence in current repositories and expects that number to quadruple in the next year.  If companies can continue to streamline these business models, it certainly seems that there is a profit to be had.  

We’ll have more on the latest in biobanking at the Biorepository and Sample Management conference. Join us September 8-10 in Boston, MA. Check out what we’ve got on tap.

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