Xcell Therapeutics: Sustainability and Impact
Xcell Therapeutics is a Seoul-based venture-backed life sciences company that is developing novel systems for cell therapy development and production. Together with Lighthouse, Xcell is a co-organizer for Adventures 2019. This is the third article introducing Xcell Therapeutics.
Cell cultures are critical for research, development, and production in biotech and life sciences, and fetal bovine serum is the most common nutritional supplement that is in use today in laboratories and pharmaceutical firms to grow animal cells. As a term, “fetal bovine serum” sounds benign, and it’s presence in the large majority of publications where animal or human cells are grown would give the impression that it is a necessary and indelible part of the research pipeline. However, these two facts mask a cruel truth: it is harvested from unborn calves when a pregnant dairy cow is slaughtered for its meat. This brings an ethical reason for why academia and industry should look to better alternatives in their work that reduce animal cruelty. In addition, intensive livestock production also contributes to environmental degradation and climate change.  
Furthermore, fetal bovine serum can be troublesome to work with because it varies from batch to batch due to diet, weather conditions, and genetic differences from one animal to the next, introducing many unknown proteins, other macromolecules, and even pathogens and contaminants. The supply chain for FBS is also subject to tampering, mislabeling, and severe price fluctuations, all of which increase costs and occasionally require large pools of experimental results to be invalidated. In contrast, chemically-defined media, like Xcell’s CellCor, is free of animal-derived substances, and it is produced through a carefully controlled process. CellCore manufacturing does not induce any animal suffering, and the contents of the final product are always consistent and perfectly well known. Chemically-defined also has simpler and more transparent supply chain, making it easy to track batches from production to lab use. Altogether, investigators can have greater confidence in the results of their experiments when using chemically-defined media, improving consistency and efficiency throughout their R&D pipeline. 
The final benefit is that chemically-defined media can also be tailored and customized for specific needs. CellCor is Xcell’s formulation specific to human mesenchymal stem cells, and it is also possible for Xcell to produce chemically-defined media for other uses. This means that researchers and partners can work with Xcell to develop custom media to attempt new experimental protocols with unique drug delivery systems or nutritional formulations with fine control in chemical constituents. Once an optimal formulation is determined for chemically-defined media, the same level of control can be achieved even for large-scale production, both for clinical use or and for personal health products. In the end, new and improved therapies will be able to reach the market faster and at a lower cost, curing disease and saving lives.
 Regulators in the US and EU are increasingly restricting the use of FBS and favoring chemically-defined media. For example, the European Union has a reduction, replacement, and refinement strategy (three Rs) regarding animal use for scientific purposes, and Utrecht University keeps various databases related to the three R’s, includingone for fetal calf serum-free cell culture materials.