Today was another incredible day at the World Stem Cell Summit (#WSCS15). Because of the jam-packed scheduled that extended from a 7:15am breakfast networking through to an evening social ending at 10:30pm, Day 2 is affectionately called “Fantastic Friday.”
As mentioned in yesterday’s post about the event (Top 10 Quotes from Day 1 of the World Stem Cell Summit), it is an unusual event that brings together members from across the stem cell community, including executives, investors, researchers, doctors, advocates and patients.
For some, such as myself, we may fit into more than one of those categories, making the event all that more significant.
Attracting Visionaries From the Stem Cell Spectrum
One of the other aspects that I love about the World Stem Cell Summit is that it gets the “innovators” within the stem cell industry to attend, the start-up companies, the game-changers, the fast-moving teams that are having a rapid global impact. While some of these companies have a small staffs, the size of their vision is massive.
One such company that fits this description is ORIG3N, an innovative biotech company that is “leading a transformation in the understanding and treatment of rare, genetically inherited disease.”
When James Lovgren, Chief Business Officer of ORIG3N, and I met today, we intended to explore potential collaborations and synergy between our companies. Instead we had an inspired conversation about the global importance of induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs), stem cell market dynamics, and the importance of social platforms to the stem cell community. (Shout out to the Stem Cell Podcast run by Dr. Chris Fansano and Dr. Yosif Ganat who we discussed during our meeting!)
I was so inspired by Lovgren’s work with ORIG3N, that I took advantage of the opportunity to get an exclusive live Q&A with him.
Interview with ORIG3N’s Chief Business Officer, James Lovgren
As a brief background on ORIG3N, the company is creating the world’s largest uniformly consented blood cell repository, known as LifeCapsule. They are using these blood cells to produce patient-specific induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs). In addition to collecting donated blood samples for iPSC production, ORIG3N also offers an optional LifeCapsule membership, in which individuals can pay $99/year to get permanent access to their own immortalized iPS cells.
That is not a typo. For $99/year, which equates to $8.25/month, anyone can now have access to his or her own immortalized iPS cells.
It is wild to realize that we are entering an era where access to stem cells is truly becoming democratized.
ORIG3N also has two other business units, LifeProfile and LifeSystems, which are discussed in detail in the interview below.
ORIG3N also has an impressive leadership team, with Robin Smith at the helm of the ship as Chief Executive Officer (CEO). Smith founded ArtusLabs in 2007, which he led until it was acquired by pharmaceutical giant PerkinElmer in 2011. Post-acquisition, Smith continued on at PerkinElmer as VP of Informatics Research and Development and later held functioned as its Vice President Global R&D Environmental Health.
ORIG3N also has futuristic business cards and a simple-yet-elegant website that was designed by a team member who previously worked at Apple. This team member was attracted to ORIG3N’s fast-moving start-up culture. Similarly, ORIG3N’s Chief Business Officer, James Lovgren, has an impressive pedigree, having previously held positions at Life Technologies and Thermo Fisher Scientific.
Enjoy the interview with James Lovgren below and put your thoughts/questions in the comments section below.
Exclusive Interview with ORIG3N’s Chief Business Officer, James Lovgren
Question 1. What are ORIG3N’s core business areas?
James Lovgren: One of ORIG3N’s core business areas is LifeCapsule. It is our biorepository where we attempt to collect as much diversity as we can, as well as allow people to store their own iPSCs for future regenerative needs.
Out of that effort spun another business unit, called LifeProfile. LifeProfile was created for the people who we were serving who said, “I’m excited to be contributing to the greater good, but can you give me back any information about myself?” From that experience, we ended up creating LifeProfile, which is a series of genetic profiles that we can provide to individuals about their health and wellness, fitness, diet, etc. Today, everyone is wearing a FitBit, everyone wants to know more about themselves, and use that knowledge to live fuller, healthier lives. Since our genetics are our underlying blueprint, who wouldn’t want to know more about that?
Our third and final business area is LifeSystems, which is a business unit that leverages our biorepository, LifeCapsule, for disease modeling and drug development, as well as potential therapeutic applications. With the cells created from that biorepository, we’re working on making cellular models available to researchers to help them accelerate the development of safer and more effective drugs.
2. What makes ORIG3N unique?
James Lovgren: Simply put, we are a biotech that is talking directly to the patients.
You know, it’s interesting to speak with people from Japan. In Japan, iPSCs are on the nightly news. The public knows about them. In contrast, when I talk about iPSCs to people here, very few people know about them.
When I speak about what we are doing at public events that we attend here in the U.S., people often say to us, “Wow, so I can actually donate just a teaspoon of blood and that can impact research for either a disease that I have or a disease that a relative has or I can improve the research for my kids in the future?” That can be mind-blowing for the general public.
Often, people perceive our direct community involvement as surprising. For instance, we recently attend a Parkinson’s event, called “Moving Day®.” It is an event held by the National Parkinson’s Foundation that is a fundraising walk/run to celebrate movement, because activities such as walking, yoga, dance, Tai Chi, and Pilates, are proven to help manage the symptoms of PD. In that type of situation, we often get asked, “Why are you here collecting blood?”
People are not used to seeing biotech companies being direct and “hands on” within the community. It is a different model than the rest of the stem cell community is taking right now.
3. What are ORIG3N’s goals for the next 3-5 years?
James Lovgren: We have proven our business model with our ability to collect blood samples from diverse patients within the United States, but the next step is to expand that diversity. For instance, we have a lot of Parkinson’s patients, but do we have any that are Korean, do we have any that are Chinese, do we have any from Southeast Asia, like Thailand or Indonesia? I think there are still under-served populations within our biobank that we can continue to expand. Being able to do that and replicate our success in patient recruitment overseas will be one of our areas of focus next year. In addition, we will continue to refine our disease models using iPSCs.
4. How will you define your success at ORIG3N? What metrics will you use?
James Lovgren: I think the big one will be growing our repository. Meaning, how diverse and how big can we get?
The more meetings we attend, the more it affirms that everyone sees the value of iPSCs, but certain diseases are under-represented and drug companies can’t get access to those cells. So for us, growing our iPSC bank is really a big drive. It will be a key metric.
5. What is your goal with regard to raising investor funding?
James Lovgren: In February the company closed a $3.1M financing round led by Hatteras venture partners and a syndicate that includes Harris & Harris Group, LabCorp, KTB and Mountain Group Capital.
We will have news on a new round of financing soon.
Or, click here to see my summary of the “Top Moments from ‘Fantastic Friday’ at the World Stem Cell Summit (Day 2).”