Development of cell therapy drug treatments

Biobank Cellaviva offers parents-to-be the chance to store stem cells from umbilical cord blood and tissue at birth. Experiences from stem cell management have now led to the development of one of Sweden’s first cell therapy drug treatments.

Mathias Svahn sitting in front of a red wall.
Cellaviva. Mathias Svahn. Photo: Håkan Lindgren.

Everything started with a pregnancy.

“When my wife Emma was pregnant, I read about stem cells found in umbilical cord blood. The idea of storing my child’s stem cells for future use fascinated me,” says Mathias Svahn, now NextCell Pharma CEO.

The option of storing stem cells from umbilical cord blood and tissue has long existed overseas, but Svahn did not feel comfortable about sending cells abroad. The alternative was to recover and store them himself. At the time, Svahn worked as a PhD student at Karolinska Institutet, and with colleagues’ help he succeeded in doing just this.

Today, he has saved stem cells from all three of his children. The experience led to Svahn founding Sweden’s first private family storage facility for stem cells, Cellaviva, in 2015. The bank now also has clients in Norway and Denmark. But this was never the ultimate goal of the project.

“As a researcher, there’s no great interest in simply collection and storage, I’ve always been thinking about what’s next.”

KI Innovations encouraged the team to set up a company, which they did, with founders including Hans-Peter Ekre, Karolinska Institutet professor Edward Smith and Lena Degling Wikingsson, currently CEO at Dilafor. The company received financial backing from Vinnova and drug company Diamyd Medical.

Picture on Mathias Svahn in a lab.
Cellaviva. Mathias Svahn. Photo: Håkan Lindgren.

First study in Sweden

The next step was to apply learnings from running the biobank to developing a new cell therapy with the help of stem cells from umbilical cord tissue. Development work is currently being conducted in partnership with Diamyd Medical, and is focusing on type 1 diabetes.

“We’re conducting the first study in Sweden to have been granted approval to evaluate mesenchymal stem cells. The reason that this has gone so quickly is our partnership with the Karolinska Trial Alliance (KTA). With their support, we’ve been able to get the study underway in record time.”

The study on cell therapy drug treatment ProTrans is being carried out under the direction of stem cell researcher and diabetes specialist Per-Ola Carlsson, Uppsala University. “Our hope is that ProTrans will be used to slow the onset of type 1 diabetes by inhibiting the immune system. This effect can also be used in kidney transplants to to prevent rejection,” says Svahn.

There are also plans to open a bank for stem cells from adults. Here too, Svahn is set to be the very first account holder. “We want to offer the option of recovering stem cells from fat tissue. Initially, we’re focusing on people planning to have liposuction. We’d be offering something that could be of value at a later date. So yes, I’m going to have liposuction done, with the aim of saving my own stem cells for the future.”

Quick facts

First study in Sweden to evaluate mesenchymal
stem cells

NextCell Pharma is conducting the first study in Sweden with approval to evaluate mesenchymal stem cells. These cells can develop into bone cells, cartilage cells, muscle cells and fat cells. They have also shown to be able to influence the immune system by activation, suppression and modulation.

Content reviewer:
Sabina Bossi