MultiCell Technologies, Inc., an integrated biopharmaceutical company based in Rhode Island, announced today that it has entered into a cooperative research and development agreement with Maxim Biotech, Inc., a non-public Maryland-based medical research products company. The focus of the research will be the development of products for working with liver stem cells in the detection and treatment of liver cancer.

Although not one of the most common types of cancer in the U.S., liver cancer is still deadly. Nationwide there were over 21,000 new cases of primary liver cancer and intrahepatic bile duct cancer in 2008 according to the National Cancer Institute. Approximately 85% of those cases were fatal. Worldwide, liver cancer is more common due to the prevalence of hepatitis infection. Hepatocellular carcinoma, resulting from Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C, is the most common cancer in some parts of the world.

One of the problems in dealing with the disease is detection. Primary liver cancer is seldom discovered early, and often does not respond to treatment, resulting in its high rate of mortality. Cancer stem cells (tumor cells that exhibit stem cell like properties) are now thought to play a role in a tumor’s resistance to therapy, and are believed to be responsible for cancer relapse. One hypothesis is that hepatocellular carcinoma arises from the maturation arrest of liver stem cells. As a result, cancer stem cells may offer a unique opportunity to identify and develop a new generation of more effective anticancer agents.

MultiCell has a number patents relating to the isolation and differentiation of liver stem cells. The initial goal of the cooperative agreement with Maxim Biotech will be the development of a family of life science research reagent tool kits to isolate liver stem cells. This will help to elucidate liver stem cell gene function and their encoded proteins. MultiCell also hopes to identify therapeutic targets, as well as diagnostic and prognostic markers of liver cancer, and eventually seeks to develop and patent therapeutic product opportunities targeting the treatment of primary liver cancer and intrahepatic bile duct cancer.