UK stem cell firm grabs crowdfunding record

Cardiff-based Cell Therapy Ltd (CTL) has raised £691,000 in a crowdfunding call in just 10 days, showing the potential of the approach for small biotech companies.

CTL will use the money raised to fund the continued development and manufacture of its stem cell therapy HeartCel, which is designed to improve outcomes in health failure patients undergoing bypass surgery or coronary stenting and successfully completed a Phase II trial last year.

The therapy is administered by the cardiac surgeon during the procedure and aims to repair scar tissue in the heart resulting from a heart attack or blocked arteries by stimulating regeneration of myocardial cells.

Armed with the new cash – which was raised from 300 investors via the Crowdcube website – CTL has also appointed Nobel prize-winning stem cell scientist Professor Sir Martin Evans as its president and Lord Digby Jones as chairman, while Mark Hughes – previously of Mediwatch – joins the firm as chief financial officer.

CTL was co-founded in 2009 by Prof Evans and Ajan Reginald, ex-global head of emerging technologies at Roche.

With heart failure affecting some 20 million in the US, Europe and Asia every year, HeartCel is “a medicine for everybody”, said Prof Evans, who added it is fitting that crowdfunding will have played such an important role in bringing it through development.

CTL had set a target of just £250,000 for its Crowdcube pitch, with 1.07% of equity offered, and was overwhelmed by the response, with one investor stumping up more than £100,000 for the project.

The appetite for the fundraising has been driven not only by the big names supporting CTL, but also the potentially huge pay-off if the approach proves its worth in additional trials and reaches the market.

Treatment of health failure represents a $50bn market worldwide, and CTL has predicted that – assuming its gets regulatory approval in 2016 – HeartCel could quickly grow to make £200 million in sales in 2017 and £500 million by 2020. The company claims to hold patents on the stem cell therapy approach until 2033.

The success of the crowdfunding exercise comes after industry experts at the JPMorgan Healthcare Conference in San Francisco predicted that 2015 would be a big year for companies developing advanced therapy medicinal products (ATMPs) such as gene and cell-based therapies.

In a recent blog post, Crowdcube predicted that investors’ appetite for niche, complex businesses such as biotech companies will rise in 2015, adding that CTL “is the kind of business we didn’t expect to be approaching us four years ago.”

“We expect to have as many as 300,000 [investors] on Crowdcube by the end of 2015,” it added and – as the understanding and range of interests of the investor base broadens and deepens – this will have the effect of “increasing the capacity for niche businesses to find their audience.”

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