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Stem cells file

JangoBio is the latest company to emerge from research conducted on stem cells at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

A new company entering Madison's booming stem cell industry promises a line of therapy that could stop some of the negative impacts of aging.

JangoBio, a University of Wisconsin-connected biotech that announced its launch at the end of 2016, is refining a stem cell-based solution for restoring the flow of hormones in aging patients. Through its so-called "next-generation" hormonal replacement therapy, the company says that it could help prevent diseases like Alzheimer's and diabetes, along with other aging-related issues like weight gain and fatigue.

The problem JangoBio targets is the death of testicular and ovarian cells, an aspect of aging that affects hormonal production. Such hormonal changes have been linked to various diseases and negative health outcomes, including an increased risk of mortality.

"There's loads of evidence for this. It's not something that's disputed," said Bill Kohl, JangoBio's chief operating officer. "The trick is, how do you get all the hormones balanced? And how do you balance them individually for each person?"

There are currently a number of pharmaceutical treatments on the market to do that, most commonly testosterone, estrogen, and melatonin supplements. However, some of those pharmaceutical solutions have been shown to increase risk of heart disease and cancer. Kohl also asserts that a narrow focus on estrogen or testosterone levels isn't sufficient, given that there are dozens of hormones affected by aging.

JangoBio's solution, based on research spearheaded by the company's CEO and UW-Madison medical professor Craig Atwood, would introduce manufactured reproductive gland cells into a patient as a means of restoring hormonal balance.

It's a treatment that would also be more convenient for the user, Kohl said. Instead of a regimen of pills, all that would be necessary would be therapy once every 10 to 20 years, he estimated. 

Kohl noted that other groups have been working on reproductive gland tissue development, albeit for purposes other than hormonal balance restoration.

"We're not doing anything new with stem cells. We're tweaking things a bit," said Kohl.

The company has received a $365,000 grant for developing the therapy from the National Institutes of Health. In addition, Kohl says they're "well on their way" to raising an additional $250,000 from private investors. That money will go toward the lab space, rats, and human resources needed to test the safety and effectiveness of the therapy.

Currently, the potential risks of such treatment aren't clear. Kohl said that could be uncovered through the impending phase of research, which could last for up to two years. At that point, the company may or may not proceed with clinical trials.

"Once there's efficacy and safety data established to FDA protocol, then it becomes a very attractive business for others to purchase," said Kohl. "We're not opposed to that."

Madison's stem cell therapy scene itself is proof that an acquisition is possible. In 2015, the Japanese imaging company FujiFilm acquired Cellular Dynamics, Inc., the stem cell manufacturing firm founded by the renowned UW-Madison researcher James Thomson. Just last year, a pharmaceutical giant from the U.K. bought Stratatech, a Madison company that specializes in skin cells.

Kohl said that JangoBio was able to leverage the impressive network of stem cell researchers and companies in Madison to help build its own team.

"It's a pretty high-powered group that wouldn't be available easily outside of Madison," he said.

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Erik Lorenzsonn is the Capital Times' tech and culture reporter. He joined the team in 2016, after having served as an online editor for Wisconsin Public Radio and having written for publications like The Progressive Magazine and The Poughkeepsie Journal.