’The world has been waiting for companies like Cynata’: Q&A with new Chairman Dr Paul Wotton
Dr Paul Wotton talks about what the importance of Cynata’s Cymerus technology, what drew him to the company and what he’s seen change since the early days of stem cell therapy.
Having spent many years working in the stem cell therapy industry, how do you view where it currently stands?
My belief is that cell therapies, or cell-derived therapies, are coming of age. They’ve been around a long time and there’s been a lot of disappointments, but that’s because the technology hasn’t been well-defined or well-developed.
More recently that has changed. We’ve seen some companies like Fujifilm getting into the space, working on technology like Cynata’s Cymerus, and with these sorts of resources it’s my personal belief that it’s just a matter of time until someone shows an outstanding success and the sheep start to follow the leader.
We can see what’s happening with Cynata’s graft-versus-host disease trial for example – it’s a new form of treatment. The world has been waiting for companies like Cynata.
What attracted you to Cynata Therapeutics?
I think the work they are doing is revolutionary. And the reason it is important is that cell therapy has had a chequered history, part of the reason for that being that it has been an unregulated industry to some extent.
Cynata is one of the companies that’s going about it in the right way. If they get the GvHD working properly when the clinical trial starts, the first patient in the world to be dosed with an induced pluripotent stem cell (iPSC) will come from a Cynata trial. It’s a world-first.
Cynata is taking a population of cells that are quality-controlled, reproducible. They’ve got a consistent product and that’s really important when you’re trying to treat a population of people as a whole.
This being an ‘off the shelf’ product means quality control issues are much easier to monitor, and means it’s more cost-effective for Cynata to provide therapy to patients and it’s ultimately a win-win all around.
These clinical trials that have been approved by the pertinent bodies are going to make a meaningful difference to people’s lives – it’s a sign the company has grown up and is moving in the right direction.
What differentiates Cynata from other companies involved in the therapeutic stem cell industry?
I think a lot of people had a lot of technology that was very promising but cell therapy was unregulated in the sense that those people were able to make outrageous claims – and often tried to test them – without an approved product from a regulatory body. These bodies are there for a purpose, to make sure that patients receive safe treatment that is shown to work under controlled clinical trials.
The difference for Cynata is the fact that they’ve got a product in the clinic. That means they’ve worked with the regulatory bodies who are satisfied that there will be benefit of using that technology in humans, and that that outweighs any risks.
And I have also been very, very impressed with Dr Ross Macdonald as a CEO. He is a very responsible man who knows exactly what he is doing, he’s very professional and would never make claims or work on something that he could not substantiate.
To be honest the most important thing is that patients are going to get the benefit of the therapy we are developing. That’s the fact.
What is your vision for Cynata’s work?
This goes back a long way for me. I was at the Westminster Hospital in the early 80s when they were doing bone marrow transplants to kids with orphan diseases. I was on the periphery of this type of technology back in its early days.
Now I come forward to this period in time, and I can see that a lot of these kids benefitted from that early research. That’s what can happen with Cynata.
I am now in a situation where I am looking at cell therapy having come full circle. It’s no longer just being practised by some visionary professor at a top teacher hospital in London, it’s becoming reality and it’s on the verge of curing a number of serious diseases.
Our technology is now at the point where we can understand what cells can do and what they can’t do. How they communicate and interact. We can harness that now. It has taken 30 years for the science to catch up with the vision and I’m very excited.
What is the significance of Cynata gaining these regulatory approvals for its graft-versus-host disease clinical trial?
You cannot underestimate the power of the technology moving out of the lab and into the clinic. This is a huge step for a company. It means Cynata’s product has been validated by independent experts who are interested in seeing this used in humans to get a cure.
They have to be very careful about what they do in approving these go-aheads. Believe me, many, many biotechs don’t get this far. I think Dr Macdonald and his team have done – and will continue to do – a magnificent job.