Cambridge Enterprise and Qkine Ltd sign deal to drive stem cell and regenerative medicine research 

Cambridge Enterprise, the commercialisation arm of the University of Cambridge, and specialist growth factor manufacturer Qkine Ltd have signed a key licensing deal for Activin A production technology.

Qkine is a recent spin-out from the University of Cambridge. The newly-licensed methodology, which was developed by one of the company’s founders Dr Marko Hyvönen, will be used to manufacture proteins that are used for control of stem cell growth and differentiation.

Growth factors are proteins that transmit signals from one cell to another in higher organisms, orchestrating organisation of the developing embryo and regulating biological functions and repair processes in adults. Activin A, and others from its family of proteins, are essential ingredients used by stem cell scientists to mimic the environment in the human body. They allow carefully synchronised messages to be sent to stem cells, telling them to turn into the desired cell type.

With exponential growth in the study of stem cells—for disease modelling, drug screening, precision medicine and development of new therapeutics—the need for high quality reagents for fine control of stem cell cultures is ever increasing.

Growing demand for Activin A and related growth factors and an opportunity to use protein engineering techniques to optimise these growth factors motivated Hyvönen and co-founder Dr Catherine Onley, a translational scientist, to start Qkine. Its mission is to produce high quality bioactive proteins for stem cell researchers and the regenerative medicine industry.

Commenting on the announcement, Hyvönen said: “I have been providing growth factors to the Cambridge stem cell community for almost a decade. Demand is growing from labs outside Cambridge and forming Qkine will allow us to focus on producing the highest quality cytokines for these scientists and establish a unique UK-based supplier of one of the enabling technologies for regenerative medicine, one of the priority areas for British manufacturing recently identified by the Government”.

Qkine was awarded a Cambridge Enterprise PathFinder investment in December 2016 to facilitate the founding of the company. Qkine started operation as an embedded company at the Department of Biochemistry in April 2017.

Dr Iain Thomas, head of Life Sciences at Cambridge Enterprise, added: “Qkine is a great example of how opportunities are incubated in the University until the commercial time is right. We are delighted that Qkine is taking this technology into the stem cell and regenerative medicine markets both of which are important and rapidly growing”.

Image depicts the crystal structure of mature Activin A growth factor.
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