S. Korea's RNL Bio weighs JHU pact

Partners would do stem cell research at E. Baltimore site

September 09, 2006|By Tricia Bishop | Tricia Bishop,Sun reporter

A South Korean stem cell company, RNL Bio Inc., is considering expanding its operations to the United States by setting up a research and development facility at the Life Sciences and Technology Park under development near Baltimore's Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. The deal is contingent upon a partnership with the school's Institute for Cell Engineering.

This week, RNL and Johns Hopkins signed a memorandum of understanding that outlines plans for a possible joint project between them, researching adult stem cell treatments for heart tissue regeneration and bone and spinal cord diseases.

If the project goes forward, RNL will move in, placing about 20 employees in Baltimore.

State economic officials took partial credit for the development yesterday, claiming the Maryland Stem Cell Fund, which allocates $15 million for stem cell research, was a draw for the company.

No one from RNL was available yesterday to comment on whether the company intends to apply for the state funding. In the state Department of Business and Economic Development news release, RNL's president said he was looking forward to collaborating with the university experts.

"I think there are two things" that got the ball rolling, said Dr. Chi Dang, a Hopkins professor and vice dean for research at the school of medicine. "Of course the stem cell funding is a draw, but I hope that Hopkins' efforts in stem cell research is also a draw."

Hopkins started the Institute for Cell Engineering in 2001, with a goal of engineering human cells "into therapeutic transplants for a wide range of currently devastating diseases."

The school has also spent the past few years trying to bolster its relationship with the business community and find ways to put its technology in the marketplace.

"This type of [memorandum of understanding] signifies that we're open for business," Dang said.

Several Maryland stem cell companies, including Baltimore's Osiris Therapeutics Inc., have called the state stem cell funding amount too small to have much effect.

And one business said it might leave Maryland because there's more funding elsewhere.

In an April filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Neuralstem Inc. of Rockville said it "is considering plans to relocate its headquarters to California ... in order to qualify for funding under Proposition 71."

The California initiative allocates $3 billion over the next 10 years for stem cell research.


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