From Foreskins to Skin Grafts to Stem Cells–The Reusable Body

The interesting WebMD story titled “Skin That Just Won’t Quit” ( got us thinking. In the world of small cap companies, sometimes all it takes is some kind of human body part, particularly a discarded one, a lab and a few months of testing and you’ve got a biotech start-up.

WebMd’s story covered the chance discovery by a group of University of Wisconsin scientists who “watched in astonishment” as a group of human skin cells gave birth to a line of new cells that just kept dividing for more than a year, maintaining the features of normal skin cells, and ultimately became the basis of a start-up biotech wound care company. The story noted another small biotech company (name not included) that has created skin graft products out of human foreskins left over (and discarded) after infant circumcisions.

It turns out that all kinds of parts from dead humans, including bone grafts and corneas, umbilical cords and blood cells, have become the basis of a procedure or technology that ultimately became a publicly-traded company.

We’ve put together a list of biotechs similar because they use some sort of human body part or fluids. Some of these have no products on the market, yet, while others have several products already being commercialized. This is by no means an attempt to minimize their important efforts and research.

Alachua, FL-based RTI Biologics (Nasdaq: RTIX, processes human tissues, including bone, cartilage, tendon, ligament, pericardium and dermal tissues into allografts for distribution to hospitals and surgeons. It also processes human and bovine tissues for spine, sports medicine, dental, surgical specialties and bone grafts. Its stock price has been on a steady, if slow, upswing since February and RTIX was recently featured as one of “5 Stocks Poised for a Breakout” at Seeking Alpha.  Its 52-week range is $3.57-$2.02 and is currently trading at $3.16.

Plainsboro, NJ-based Integra LifeSciences Holding Corp. (Nasdaq: IART, qualifies in our list because it markets surgical implants including orthobiologics and dermal regeneration products, among other products and surgical devices. This is no small start up. IART is a $1 billion market cap company that was trading for more than $52 in May and then plunged (with the rest of the market) down to $38 on Aug. 10.  They bounced back up more than 3 percent Aug. 11 to close at $39.39.

Belgrade, MT-based Bacterin International Holdings, Inc. (AMEX: BONE, manufactures a variety of biologics products including OsteoSponge, a form of bone matrix made of human bone used as a scaffold for cellular growth. The company recently announced a major management reorganization involving 14 positions on the team to make it “more integrated and aligned.” The stock has been dropping dramatically since January when it traded for about $9. It closed Aug. 11 at $2.10, up 24 cents for the day.

Las Vegas-based Cord Blood America (OTCBB: CBAI.OB, provides cord blood stem cell preservation services, including the testing and preservation of umbilical cord blood, among other services. CBAI is tiny (only $8.4 million market cap, $2.89 million in revenue for first six months of 2011) but growing and acquiring other small biotechs. The challenge will be to get it big enough for investors to become interested. The stock price is languishing at about 12 cents.

Marlborough, MA-based Advanced Cell Technology (OTCBB: ACTC.OB, is involved in regenerative medicine based on human embryos and adult stem cell technology. It also develops adult stem cell-based products targeted at therapies for heart and other cardiovascular diseases and has a stem cell line for macular degeneration in clinical testing. Its stock trades actively (more than 4 million shares a day) but appears to be languishing at about 16 cents a share until it can start generating revenue.

Menlo Park, CA-based Geron Corp. (Nasdaq: GERN, is partly a biopharmaceutical company but is also developing stem cell-derived chondrocytes for the treatment of cartilage damage and joint disease. It has struggled ever since it reported a 17-cent loss for the second quarter Aug. 3. It closed Aug. 12 at $2.61, way off its 52-week high of $6.40 it reached last October. Could it be over-sold and poised for a comeback?


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