The Mayo Clinic-linked firm Cardio3 Biosciences, which is building a manufacturing facility in downtown Rochester, has abruptly decided to change its name to better fit its widening focus in the growing area of cell-based therapies.
The Belgium-based biotech firm announced Wednesday that it changed its name to Celyad. It started using the new name immediately, though shareholders will not vote on the change until its annual meeting May 5.
This sudden move comes as the company is preparing for an initial public offering on the U.S. stock exchange. Celyad has not released a date for the IPO.
CEO Dr. Christian Homsy was quoted in a company statement saying this new name fits with the firm's new direction following its recent $10 million acquisition of Celdara Medical's oncology division, OnCyte. That signals an expansion beyond its stem-cell-based cardiac regeneration therapy into immuno-oncology. The regenerative stem cell therapy is based on research done by Dr. Andre Terzic and Dr. Atta Behfar, licensed from the Mayo Clinic.
“We believe that the name change better aligns our identity with our core activities and overall unified objective of identifying and translating innovative cell-based therapies into therapeutics, not only in cardiology, but now also in oncology and potentially in other areas in the future,” Homsy stated in the announcement of the new name.
Celyad's U.S. communication staff said Wednesday that no one from the company could publicly comment on the name change, other than through the press release. Celyad spokeswoman Kirsten Thomas, of The Ruth Group, explained the silence was due to the U.S Securities Exchange Commission's imposed "quiet period" on promotional publicity during the buildup to the IPO.
Mayo Clinic and Celyad have collaborated since 2007 on the cardiopoiesis technology that the company uses to repair patients' hearts by re-programming their own stem cells to regenerate cardiac tissue. Mayo Clinic owned 2.69 percent of the company as of March 3. Mayo Clinic also is participating in a Celyad clinical trial.
If the stem cell therapy makes it to the market, Celyad will pay Mayo Clinic $1 million a year for four years for research as well a 2 percent royalty on sales for 15 years, the press release says.
"We are excited that Celyad is branching out beyond cardiology into areas such as oncology," stated Jim Rogers, the chairman of Mayo Clinic Ventures. "Our hope is that they are building a robust capability to deliver breakthrough therapies in the area of regenerative medicine, which is a significant priority for Mayo as well."
The name change comes before new signs have gone up in the city of Rochester's Minnesota Biobusiness Center. The city signed a lease with Celyad earlier this year for it to develop a prototype manufacturing facility in the 14,963 square feet of space on the fifth floor of the downtown building. The five-year lease calls for Celyad to pay a rent of $18 per square foot, or $22,444.50 per month. The city agreed in the lease to pay for $600,000 in equipment and improvements to the space.
The Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development also signed a deal with Celyad on Jan. 12 to receive a Minnesota Job Creation Fund award of $357,000. To collect the money, it must invest $1.5 million in Rochester within a year, plus hire 33 employees within two years.
The ultimate goal of the project is for the city, state and Rochester Area Economic Development Inc. to eventually convince Celyad to build a 100,000-square-foot manufacturing facility with 350 employees in Rochester, according to RAEDI officials.
However, Rochester is not the only city wooing the Belgium company. While the Rochester facility is the company's first official U.S. location, it also has plans to build a U.S. headquarters in Boston.
It seems as though Celyad is at a turning point. The company has worked on developing its cardiac regenerative therapy since 2007. While it has seen many positive results from trials in Europe and research in the United States, it has no products currently on the market.
The company lost $18.1 million in 2014, up from $15.9 million in losses in 2013. While the cardiopoiesis technology developed by Mayo Clinic appears to be promising, the company seems to be embracing the new CAR T-Cell cancer-fighting approach — essentially, a cancer vaccine — that it purchased from Celdara Medical for $10 million earlier this year.
"Our acquisition of the OnCyte CAR T-Cell portfolio in early 2015 heralds the first major step in our strategy to leverage our unique expertise in cell therapies and drug development to expand beyond the cardiac arena to develop breakthrough treatments to change the outcome of disease," stated Homsy last month.
"We are excited to be expanding our product offering into the prominent area of immuno-oncology and anticipate the initiation of the Phase I trial of our lead immuno-oncology candidate, CAR-NKG2D in the first half of 2015 and look forward to sharing details of our progress as we evaluate its clinical potential," Homsy said. "We intend to leverage our cell therapy know-how and infrastructure to quickly progress those assets into later stage clinical trials in 2016, aiming at more than five trials in liquid and solid tumors in the USA and Europe."
Many companies are vying for a spot in the hot CAR T-Cell area to be the one to develop the breakthrough cancer vaccine. The worldwide market for such vaccines was recently estimated to $8.4 billion in 2020.