GR plant lands work for stem cell product


    Aastrom Biosciences Inc., a life sciences research and development firm  in Ann Arbor, is replacing a North Carolina supplier with Grand Rapids medical device manufacturer ATEK Medical.

    ATEK Medical has headquarters in Minneapolis but its main plant is at 620 Watson St. SW in Grand Rapids. The firm, which employs 275 here, in January will start manufacturing and assembling cell culture cassettes that Aastrom uses to turn patients’ stem cells into an autologous cardiovascular treatment.

    “Size-wise, it’s not our largest, but it is a big deal for us,” said Scott Fetzer, ATEK’s senior vice president of business growth. “It is an opportunity for us to partner with a company in Michigan and to bring business to the area.”

    ATEK’s Michigan location was a key factor when Aastrom needed to replace Moll Industries Inc. of North Carolina, which ran into financial difficulty, said Tod Borton, senior director of engineering and development for Aastrom Biosciences. 

    “We really were looking for a Michigan-based company,” Borton said. “We did a full analysis of many, many companies across the U.S. ATEK percolated to the top.”

    Borton said Aastrom liked not only ATEK’s experience in assembling and manufacturing medical devices, but its engineering capability that can be applied to improve the process and the product.

    ATEK Medical traces its origins back to Grand Rapids medical manufacturer DLP Inc., which was bought out by Minneapolis device giant Medtronic Inc. in 1993. A Certified Women’s Business Enterprise, ATEK was formed in 2003 to extract the Grand Rapids facility from Medtronic as a separate enterprise.

    Aastrom Biocsciences is focused on developing treatments for cardiovascular disease that start with the patient’s own cells. Founded n 1989, the public firm expects to start a Phase 3 clinical trial for a treatment for critical limb ischemia, the end-stage of peripheral artery disease. Another therapy in development is aimed at dilated cardiomyopathy.

    In Aastrom’s process, adult stem cells are extracted from the patient’s bone marrow and shipped to the company’s Ann Arbor location, Borton explained. The cells are then placed in a device where they multiply for more than a week. The result is then harvested and concentrated before being shipped back for the patient’s use.

    ATEK Medical will supply the disposable component in which the stem cells grow, Borton said.

    A Phase 3 clinical trial involves thousands of patients and is aimed at proving the treatment’s efficacy.

    Aastrom also is working on a treatment for dilated cardiomyopathy, which is not as far along in the clinical trial process as the CLI treatment, Borton added.

    “We would like to grow the relationship with ATEK going forward,” he said. “That’s one of the reasons we picked ATEK. They have the capacity to develop with us into the next generation product.”

    Fetzer added that machinery is being moved into a clean room at the ATEK plant. He said the contract is big enough to support several jobs at the company.

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