The future of cultivation
In some years from now there will be a demand for pharmaceutical grade products in the cultivation of stem cells. Building on its strong tradition of IVF media and solutions for organ transplantation Vitrolife is ready to meet the future.
European Life Science Journal (ELSJ): Being a niche company, where do you see the major markets and developing potentials for Vitrolife?
Vitrolifes CEO, Magnus Nilsson (Magnus Nilsson): Vitrolife is truly a niche company in the sense that we have focused on the IVF market and other markets where media or liquid fluids are needed for a laboratory kind of therapy. Our clients are specialised laboratories, which do a major part of a clinical treatment. Were not really interested in research products. Our niche is a clinical specialised laboratory where you take care of cells, organs and tissues outside the body. And these are truly niche areas. The trend towards personalised medicine is also an area where I see niche medicine is coming in.
Our market is not only Western Europe and the US. Right now China and India are actually developing fastest. We foresee that the major developments will be in developing countries. The rapid increase in educational level, income, living standard and urbanisation in China, for instance, will advance the age of first pregnancy in women above 30, thereby increasing the risk of being infertile.
The growth rate for IVF therapies reaches 50% in China. In other Asian countries it reaches 15-20%, whereas the European and US markets are rather saturated, with growth rates of approx. 5%.
ELSJ: Vitrolifes core product area is fertility. How do your products help people that experience difficulties to get children? And which are the main markets for these products?
Magnus Nilsson: An embryo is probably the most sensitive human "tissue" if you like that there is. Our contribution is to increase the level of quality and efficacy of the media and fluids needed to take care of the embryo before its put in. Weve always strived to increase the safety, thereby increasing the viability of the embryo. In that way we help people to a higher success rate. The success rate is usually based on the ability for the embryo to survive outside the body. In that sense were helping the patients to have a better chance of becoming pregnant.
Infertility treatment is rather expensive, costing somewhere in the order of EUR 4,000-5,000. In a lot of Western European countries its subsidised by the government. So the main market is Europe. However, the saturation level is correlated to the level of subsidies from the government making it quite high in Europe. In the US, on the other hand, the cost is much higher and is not subsidised normally, so there the saturation level is less. But, as I said before, we see a strong development in the developing countries where the affordability of the treatment increases with increased income levels.
ELSJ: Another core product area of yours is in transplantation. What solutions do you offer? And which are the main markets?
Magnus Nilsson: We have a product clinically developed for taking care of lungs outside the body. 95% of all the lungs transplanted in the world are taken care of in our solution. During the time after the organ is harvested from the donor until its put into the recipient it needs to be cooled down to minimise metabolism, thereby minimising the need for oxygen and nutrients.
However, since ten years weve developed a completely new way in which you take care of organs. I would even call it a paradigm shift in transplantations. Because we now have a solution where you perfuse the organ outside the body where its hooked up to a perfusion system and with our proprietary solution, which is then pumped into the organ, we warm up the organ again to 37° C.
With that we can prolong the time outside the body. We can measure how the organ functions and we can also match the organ with the recipient better than today. And the good thing is also that we can reach other types of donors. Because today its only the so-called brain dead donors that can be used.
But with a method where you can actually measure the function of the organ outside the body you can also use other types of donors, for instance non-heart-beating donors, meaning that you can harvest the organ from someone with a stroke where the heart stops beating.
This new method has the potential to increase the availability of new organs by increasing the donor pool. So its a really exciting time for us. Weve made clinical studies in Canada now with very good results and were looking for a trial in the United States, which we believe will be key. For this type of expensive treatment the United States is of course the big market, and we have a very good dialogue with the FDA.
ELSJ: Why are you engaged in stem cell cultivation? What synergies do you see between this area and your other core product areas?
Magnus Nilsson: Stem cell cultivation is of course the basis for a future stem cell therapy and since our core product today is IVF treatment where you cultivate embryos outside the body its very close to cultivating stem cells. Theres a lot in common in cultivating cells for clinical use. So, its a very pronounced synergy when it comes to the types of products, the ingredients, and the manufacture. And the target is a specialised clinical laboratory, so the customer is very similar, the products are very similar and the demands will be similar, in the future at least. So this is a coming market where we see pronounced synergies with our IVF products and IVF marketing.
We can now see that there are hundreds if not thousands of clinical studies with stem cells running. So in some years from now this will be an established therapy. At that time there will be a demand for pharmaceutical grade products in the cultivation of stem cells. And thats where we have a lot of experience.