STEMCELL Technologies: how Canada’s regenerative medicine company helps scientists Globally
STEMCELL Technologies grew out of the Terry Fox Laboratory (TFL) in Vancouver, Canada, where Dr. Allen Eaves, a hematologist and cancer researcher, was the Founding Director.
Unsatisfied with commercially available reagents for growing the stem cells required for their research, Dr. Eaves’ research group at the TFL began making their own cell culture media out of the highest quality components they could find.
“In the 1980’s our leukemia research program required us to make tissue culture media for growing normal and chromosomally-marked cancer stem cells.” says Eaves. “This methylcellulose media helped us develop new ways of understanding and treating chronic myelogenous leukemia. We did this with our closely-associated bone marrow transplant program at the Vancouver General Hospital. There was no intellectual property involved in making this media—other researchers made it too—we just made it better!”
As word about his high-quality cell culture media spread throughout the global scientific community, Dr. Eaves started selling the media to other institutions, reinvesting the revenue back into his research program. This fueled a business that quickly outgrew the manufacturing capacity of the TFL. Thus, with a second mortgage on his house and a loan from Western Economic Development Canada, Eaves formally launched STEMCELL Technologies in July of 1993. That year, the company sold over $1 million of MethoCult™ culture media, which remains the international gold standard for growing and measuring blood and bone marrow stem cells today.
After 24 years in business, with annual revenue approaching $185 million, STEMCELL continues to be true to its roots, bootstrapping growth by reinvesting all profits back into research and development. The company now employs over 1100 people, 800 of whom are based at the Vancouver head office, research labs and manufacturing facilities. STEMCELL has grown at an average rate of 20% annually, with 96% of sales revenues coming from outside Canada. STEMCELL’s products are used in 90 countries, serviced by nine international offices and a network of distributors around the world. Allen Eaves continues to serve as President and CEO.
Products Helping Scientists
STEMCELL’s mission is to advance the pursuit of scientific knowledge by supplying high-quality, innovative reagents, tools and services to enable life science research. This mission has driven the company to amass an impressive catalogue of more than 2500 products that are used in biomedical research labs, routine diagnostic centres and pharmaceutical companies across the globe. STEMCELL’s products support research on regenerative medicine, tissue engineering, gene therapy, immunotherapy, toxicity testing, and the development of advanced treatments for cancer and other diseases.
Commenting on STEMCELL’s diverse and integrated product portfolio, Dr. Terry Thomas, STEMCELL’s Chief Scientific Officer stated:
“In addition to expanding our original line of hematology products, we have grown our offerings to include a comprehensive suite of immune cell isolation tools as well as products that support research using pluripotent stem cells and mesenchymal stem cells. We have also developed families of products optimized for neural, mammary, prostate, pulmonary, pancreatic, cardiac, and intestinal cell biology research. A very exciting recent focus of the company is organoid technology. These mini-organs are revolutionizing the way scientists are studying human health and disease in the lab, and we’re helping them do it!”
STEMCELL is committed to quality, investing heavily into sourcing the highest calibre raw materials, and ensuring batch to batch consistency through rigorous quality assurance and quality control systems. By providing novel, useful, standardized products, STEMCELL enables scientists to do their experiments more efficiently and effectively, delivering faster, more reliable and robust results.
In addition to its off-the-shelf products, STEMCELL’s Contract Assay Services department is available to provide standard and customized assay services to support scientists with specialized research needs for which they don’t have the infrastructure or expertise to carry out. This department harnesses STEMCELL’s high-performance products and in-house experts to provide standard and customized assay services on site at STEMCELL’s Vancouver-based research labs. Since 2000, Contract Assay Services has performed studies for over 120 pharmaceutical, biotechnology, government and academic life science organizations worldwide.
STEMCELL also recognizes that Scientists Helping Scientists goes beyond the lab bench. As such, the STEMCELL team is committed to nurturing scientific communities through ongoing learning and science communication. For example, the company’s Education division offers customized hands-on and virtual training courses. These workshops, delivered locally or at STEMCELL’s Research & Learning Centre in Cambridge UK, provide expert instruction on complex research protocols and experimental procedures. Other resources, such as educational videos and podcasts, weekly science newsletters, social media communities and online science resource hubs keep scientists current with their fields, connecting scientific communities, and providing scientists with the information they need to succeed with their research and careers.
Knowledge and Expertise
STEMCELL is truly a community of Scientists Helping Scientists; one third of the 1100-person team holds an MSc or PhD, and many others carry advanced degrees in fields such as business, engineering, and law.
“A culture of curiosity, collaboration, and innovation pulses throughout the company.” says Helen Sheridan, Senior Vice President of Human Resources at STEMCELL. “It is inspiring to work with such a fantastic group united by a common goal – to help progress the pursuit of scientific knowledge. Our great leadership team, rapid growth, and extensive internal training programs create fantastic opportunities for career growth and personal development.”
STEMCELL takes great pride in providing high-value, knowledge-based jobs to a diverse workforce. With strong growth expected to continue, the company anticipates offering 3500 new, permanent, knowledge-based jobs in Canada by 2030.
Stem cell therapies are the future of medicine and of the global healthcare economy. Fields such as tissue engineering, regenerative medicine, immunotherapy and precision medicine are advancing rapidly and potential therapies are moving closer to the clinic. As Canada’s Regenerative Medicine Company, STEMCELL Technologies is committed to developing tools and technologies that support cutting-edge research in these areas.
To this end, STEMCELL has invested in increasing their state-of-the-art laboratory research space and is working toward building a clinical grade, advanced biologics manufacturing facility in Canada. This will enable more of the company’s products to meet global regulatory standards for clinical use, supporting research that is moving from bench to bedside.
With its large investment in Research & Development, STEMCELL has built a very strong intellectual property portfolio of over 100 patents. In addition to developing its own products, however, STEMCELL is very active at in-licensing intellectual property developed by others, and has helped several scientific technologies born in academic research settings to reach the global biotechnology market. The company is continuing to work closely with academic and industrial research partners, with a goal of bringing innovative technologies to life, ultimately enabling new discoveries and the advancement of scientific knowledge and understanding.
“Our vision, quite simply, is to be in every lab. If there is a lab anywhere in the world that is doing research where our products, services, expertise, and collaboration can add value, we want to be there to develop a meaningful relationship with them.” noted Andrew Booth, STEMCELL’s Chief Commercial Officer. “As a company, we are rooted in Allen Eaves’ passion for the pursuit of scientific knowledge. This commitment has deepened as we’ve grown from a small side project out of the back of the TFL to Canada’s largest biotech, and we will continue to be guided by that passion as we grow to service the complex needs of the biomedical community.”
To learn more about STEMCELL, visit www.stemcell.com or follow their Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube channels.
Written by Nicole Quinn, PhD.