Life sciences briefing: Tuesday, Nov. 27, 2007

Featured companies: Bind Biosciences, Clarus Therapeutics, HealOr, HistroRx, Plasticell, SpinalMotion, Xenome, Yaupon Therapeutics

UPDATED: Expanded items on SpinalMotion and Plasticell. Previous items on Evalve and Excaliard have been expanded into standalone posts here and here.Spinal-disc maker SpinalMotion arranges $14M loan facility — SpinalMotion, a Mountain View, Calif., developer of artificial spinal discs, arranged a $14 million “loan facility” — sort of a line of credit — with GE Healthcare Financial Services. The company last raised $20 million in a third round in September 2006, and to date has raised a total of $44.2 million in venture funding, according to VentureWire (subscription required).

SpinalMotion’s artificial cervical and and lumbar discs are designed to provide alternatives to spinal-fusion surgery or an approved artificial disc (J&J’s Charite) for degenerative-disc conditions. Both are being tested in large clinical trials, and the company said in June that both trials are now fully enrolled.

I wasn’t able to reach anyone at the company — the release itself was issued by GE Healthcare — and so haven’t had a chance to ask why SpinalMotion decided to take on debt rather than pursuing another venture-financing round. The obvious answer would be that management believes the company can get better terms from either VCs, IPO investors or potential acquirers following the release of those clinical-trial results, and is willing to take on debt to tide the company over until the data is in.

The obvious risk, meanwhile, is that if either or both trials go sour, the company will be in much more of a hole if it plans to raise new funds. It’s a calculated gamble, one whose outcome will be interesting to observe.

plasticell-logo.gifPlasticell takes in £690K for stem-cell work — Plasticell, a U.K. biotech hoping to develop new drugs that mimic the regenerative effects of stem cells, has pulled in £690,000 ($1.4 million) in the company’s first institutional funding round.

The Capital Fund, a London-based VC outfit, provided £250,000 of that funding, while unidentified existing invested accounted for another £440,000. Plasticell also received a £1.1 million grant from the U.K. government in January to develop robotic systems for culturing stem cells.

Plasticell hasn’t yet made much of a splash, although its scientific advisors include some heavy hitters in the U.K. stem-cell research community, including Sir Martin Evans, who shared the Nobel Prize last month. The company is pursuing two complementary objectives: Culturing stem cells in order to identify the various biochemical signals that cause them to “differentiate” into various types of body tissue, and searching for drugs that might mimic or alter those signals in both stem cells and normal cells.

Such work could have a variety of applications, such as cancer treatments or “regenerative medicine” that restores tissues damaged by disease or injury. In a way, the company’s efforts parallel work by other research teams that recently reported a way of “reprogramming” normal cells to convert them into stem cells (see our coverage).

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