Stem Cell Research Commission Awards MSCRF $14 Million to Accelerate Cures

By Alex Keown
May 24, 2023

The Maryland Stem Cell Research Commission, a division of TEDCO, handed out more than $14.1 million in grant awards aimed at bolstering the state’s cell and gene therapy manufacturing ecosystem.

The awards will be divvied up between 39 different scientists and researchers from Maryland-based institutions and companies. The funds will be used to advance research that addresses a myriad of disease conditions, including cancer, eye, heart, bone, blood, digestive, and central nervous system diseases. The financial support was provided to multiple companies and organizations through the commission’s newly-established Manufacturing Assistance Program, which was created to support the advancement and manufacturing of cell-based products in Maryland, particularly among the Fund’s portfolio companies. The latest grant awards build on a previous $4.2 million in financial support that was made earlier this year.

Since its 2006 inception, MSCRF has invested over $170 million in over 500 projects to accelerate stem cell research, commercialization, and cures. With a 2023 fiscal year budget of $20.5 million, MSCRF offers seven funding opportunities to scientists and companies in the areas of clinical trials, discovery, commercialization, validation, launch, and post-doctoral fellowships. This is the first time that the Commission awarded funding to Maryland-based companies under MSCRF’s new Manufacturing Assistance Program, established to boost cell therapy manufacturing capabilities in the state. The fund has supported the creation and growth of many stem cell companies since launching the Accelerating Cures initiative in 2017.

Maryland is the epicenter of a cluster of cell and gene therapy companies. The state is home to one of the broadest advanced biomanufacturing infrastructures in the nation.

“Our priority is to make sure we can nurture this dynamic ecosystem,” explained Ruchika Nijhara, the newly-appointed Executive Director of the Maryland Stem Cell Research Fund.

Nijhara, who was tapped as executive director in April, said advancing stem cell research is one of the highest priorities of the commission and the funds, backed by the state government, will enable the continued growth. The finances granted by the Fund represent the largest amount handed out in more than a decade, she said. The financial grants awarded each amount to approximately $1 million in support per project.  The funding will allow Maryland’s stem cell businesses to overcome manufacturing challenges and continue to provide Maryland with a competitive advantage in the space, she added.

“This will allow companies to improve their manufacturing capabilities so they can develop more accessible and affordable therapies,” Nijhara said. “We hope this (manufacturing assistance) program will allow the manufacturing in Maryland to speed up and retain and attract a trained and skilled workforce.”

The Fund’s awards were spread across academic researchers at Johns Hopkins University, University of Maryland, Baltimore County, University of Maryland, College Park, University of Maryland, Baltimore, Lieber Institute for Brain Development, Hugo W. Moser Research Institute at Kennedy Krieger and The Geneva Foundation. Additionally, the Fund supported five companies:

  • Vita Therapeutics: Last year, Vita Therapeutics, which is developing a treatment for limb-girdle muscular dystrophy 2A,  secured $31 million in a Series B financing round. The company also secured about 11,000 square feet of office space and lab space in the University of Maryland BioPark.
  • Theradaptive: Frederick, Maryland-based Theradaptive, Inc. is developing a new class of regenerative implants bolstered by its computational platform that converts recombinant proteins into material-binding variants capable of coating implants and other medical devices.
  • Caring Cross: The non-profit Caring Cross was established to develop cell therapy treatments for HIV and other diseases, including various oncology indications and the blood disorders sickle cell disease and beta-thalassemia. In 2022, Caring Cross dosed the first patient in a Phase I/IIa trial evaluating the organization’s Anti-HIV DuoCAR-T cell therapy for HIV. Earlier this year Caring Cross launched Vector BioMed, a B Corp spinout.
  • RoosterBio: Frederick-based RoosterBio, a privately held cell manufacturing platform technology company, develops high-volume and well-characterized adult human mesenchymal stem/stromal cells (hMSCs) that are paired with highly engineered media systems. The company is focused on accelerating hMSC and extracellular vesicle (EV) product and process development in order to fuel the rapid commercialization of scalable regenerative cures. 
  • Reprocell U.S.A.: A contract research organization, Reprocell provides support for the entire drug discovery pathway. The company’s portfolio includes an extensive product catalog to support stem cell research and 3D bioengineered tissues.

“It’s important to provide support for these companies. Biomanufacturing can have a positive impact on economic development,” Nijhara said. She added that Maryland ranks seventh in the nation in biomanufacturing. As the industry continues to scale, Nijhara said attracting and retaining a skilled workforce is a key goal for the commission.

The MSCRF has issued RFAs for its first round of 2024 funding. The deadline is July 13, 2023.

As Nijhara looks to the future, she said the Fund will continue with its commitment to advance stem cell therapy research and support Maryland’s companies and researchers in every way possible.