PanTHERA CryoSolutions sat down with Dr. Erik Woods, Chief Science Officer, Co-Founder of Ossium Health. Dr. Erik Woods is also presently a member of the Board of Directors for PanTHERA CryoSolutions.
Dr. Woods has devoted his career to advancing cell selection, culture and cryopreservation to facilitate mainstream clinical use of cellular therapies. He co-founded General BioTechnology, LLC (GBT), a commercial cryobank, contract cell-manufacturing and R&D company, which he led for 15 years through successful acquisition by COOK Medical in 2012. During that time, he ran a continuously grant-funded research program that created numerous successful technologies, including the first closed-system cryovial for cellular therapeutics, now marketed as CellSeal® by Sexton Biotechnologies, and the first mass produced human platelet lysate product, marketed as Stemulate®, both now used globally.
Following acquisition of GBT, Dr. Woods served as Senior VP of COOK Regentec and oversaw the large-scale manufacturing of products in the US and Europe, and managed global projects involving multiple teams. Additionally, he served as an officer in Medistem, Inc., an early phase cell therapy company, where he developed isolation, manufacturing, and cryopreservation methods and prepared the CMC for their proprietary allogeneic Endometrial Regenerative Cell (ERC) technology IND and assisted in that company’s successful acquisition by Intrexon Corp.
Dr. Woods has a proven track record of developing new cell processing and banking technologies and translating them to the clinic. Over his career, he has been responsible for overseeing clinical laboratory operations as a board-certified High Complexity Clinical Laboratory Director (HCLD), and in that capacity he ran the only FDA-registered commercial sperm bank and the only umbilical cord blood bank in the state of Indiana, obtaining State Licensure, CLIA certification for testing, and American Association of Blood Banks (AABB) Accreditation.
Dr. Woods is a Fellow and Past President of the Society for Cryobiology and has published numerous peer reviewed manuscripts and book chapters and holds multiple patents in the field. Dr. Woods received his BA from Indiana University, his PhD from Purdue University, and he completed his postdoctoral research at the Indiana University School of Medicine.
Thank you so much for seeing us today, Dr. Woods. How do you explain your work to people who don’t work in your field?
Oh, interesting question. I usually start by saying it’s complicated (yes, we know!), and I lean in by explaining that we cryopreserve bone marrow and other tissue-based products. Now, most people know what bone marrow is, a spongy substance found in the center of the bones. It manufactures bone marrow stem cells and other substances, producing blood cells. And Ossium distributes those. We rely on cryopreservation (freezing them) because it is the only reliable way to provide living material shelf life.
We know it is obvious but what is one big problem in the world you hope to solve through your work?
We are trying to fully utilize and extend the gift of life – organ donation- to help innovatively bridge the gap between people who require transplants and donors. What Ossium has is essentially a platform, and bone marrow is presently what we are focused on. Ossium uses stem cell science to make cell therapies from bone marrow that are being evaluated as treatments for hematologic diseases, organ rejection, and diseases of inflammation.
Can you share with us your biggest eureka! moment, whether it is in your research or personal life?
A eureka moment for me was when I was just fresh out of undergrad and working in a cryobiology lab. The lab director was sharing insights with me that I had been told in my undergraduate biology classes were impossible. I started working with Dr. John Critser, who then also became my graduate school mentor, who explained how cells survive freezing and thawing and how cryopreservation is not a myth. It blew my mind because, literally a semester ago, I was told some of this was impossible. And being a fresh graduate, I challenged him on some of the information he had told me, and he took me into the lab and showed me how things worked, which hooked me right out of the gate. I was intrigued and fascinated.
Shortly after that, a few years later, I travelled to a Society for Cryobiology meeting out of the country, the first time I had been out of the United States. There I had the opportunity to meet all these people whose papers I had been reading, and at that point, seemed very intimidating. I suddenly had access to all of them at once. They were all very welcoming, and there were no stupid questions. The conference was relatively small, but I learned what you usually would in a school semester, all in one meeting. It was that meeting that cemented it for me. It was terrific and the first thing that got me really fascinated. That was the moment I realized I was never leaving this field.
So what is next for you, for Ossium Health? Any new projects on the horizon?
We are excited about our upcoming clinical trial (NCT05589896) utilizing our bone marrow bank derived from organ donors for treating hematologic malignancies. The thing about Ossium Health that stands out is that it has zero attrition and no waiting for one of our donors. Traditionally, there is a living donor registry; people sign up, and they then continue their lives until they are called when there is a possible match. A process has to take place where the donors are screened and work out schedules for the stem cell recovery. This is time consuming and doesn’t always work out. On the other hand, Ossium Health is capturing a significant potential reservoir of unique HLA types, all stored cryogenically and able to be shipped immediately when needed.
Another exciting development is our new allogeneic tissue graft in development. This is a cryopreserved living bone product. For this, the bone left over from bone marrow extraction is refined to a consistency that is ideal for orthopedic applications. This is cryopreserved and can be distributed frozen to point of care where it is thawed and use directly. This will allow more ways to utilize the massive gift these organ donors have provided, and help even more patients.
Last, what do you think of PanTHERA and the work the company is undertaking in the research that we are focused on?
It is necessary, and everyone like us will need the work PanTHERA is doing. A significant benefit this work provides is the mitigation of transient warming. This will happen inevitably when you remove a sample for distribution, and when that sample is removed at the point of care. What PanTHERA is offering makes cryosystems more stable. Also, logistically, shipping on dry ice is easier to achieve than cryogenic temperatures, and some products are already shipped that way. To get more of our products into patients’ hands, it would be ideal if we could utilize this approach. This will require stable systems at higher subzero temperatures than what we are used to. So PanTHERA’s work becomes a need to have – something that can help us raise the subzero temperature while keeping the system stable.
This conversation has been edited for brevity and clarity.
About PanTHERA CryoSolutions
PanTHERA CryoSolutions is a Canadian corporation that designs and manufactures cryopreservation solutions for cells, tissues and organs for research and clinical markets. Our patented ice recrystallization inhibitor (IRI) technology exceeds other products by providing superior cryopreservation and increasing post-thaw cell recovery and function for our customers. The technology enables the use of significantly less costly storage and transportation systems limiting the need for liquid nitrogen use for some cell therapy applications