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Bladder Factory
Print All Articles Letter to the editor 30 July 2006, 22:00 | Posted in News Podcast
Wendy Wolfson Writer/Editor freelance Oakland - United States

Give him a couple of months, and Anthony Atala can grow you a new bladder. Dr. Atala, director of the Wake Forest Institute of Regenerative Medicine, and his colleagues grow pancreas tissue, blood vessels, livers, and heart tissue, some in collaboration with Tengion, the regenerative medicine company Dr. Atala co-founded in 2003. Last month, Tengion got $50 million in second-round funding led by Quaker BioVentures in Philadelphia and Bain Capital in Boston, to manufacture “neo-bladders” grown with a patient’s own cells. The company, based in suburban Philadelphia, has a pilot manufacturing facility in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. BostonWinston-Salem, North Carolina Chief Financial Officer Gary Sender says the company will use the money to scale up its organ manufacturing plant in Pennsylvania, conduct human trials, pursue a U.S. Food and Drug Administration New Drug Application for its bioengineered bladders, and develop its pipeline. Pennsylvania Tengion received $39 million in funding at its inception in 2003. Earlier venture investors Oak Investment Partners, Johnson and Johnson Development, HealthCap, and L Capital Partners also participated in the June round. The investment in Tengion comes as a hopeful signal to the regenerative medicine industry, which has gone through hard times. There are several sound reasons to pursue it: the demand exists, organs for transplant are scarce, transplanted organs risk rejection—and skin is relatively easy to grow. The problem is that most organs are three-dimensional, hard to vascularize (or in layman’s language, get blood vessels growing), and are composed of several different types of tissue. Bladders, at least, promise a start. Early Works Dr. Atala recently opened a window on the kind of work regenerative bladders can involve. In the April issue of The Lancet, the British medical journal, he published research conducted five years ago at Children’s Hospital in Boston, where he and others biopsied epithelial and muscle cells from seven patients with malformed bladders, then grew them on a collagen scaffold, and after six to eight weeks, re-implanted them. “It was a five-year follow-up,” Dr. Atala wrote. “[The patients] did well in terms of bladder functions.”

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Now, more companies and VCs are investing in engineered organs, betting the industry has matured, even though many questions remain. “Dr. Atala is a wonderful innovator,” says Brenda Gavin, managing partner at Quaker BioVentures, “but there is a difference between laboratory science and translating it to scale.” The good news for her is that Tengion management is drawn from the ranks of big pharma—with experience working with the FDA, with manufacturing at scale, and with quality assurance. Aside from bladders for patients with spinal injury or spinal bifida, Ms. Gavin cites potential markets in blood vessels. “The real Holy Grail is functioning kidney cells,” she says. “It is the kind of thing that if it works, it is huge. Contact the Writer: Topics: Bain Capital, Wolfson, Wendy, Quaker Bioventures, Neobladders

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