Skip to comments.Pfizer to invest in adult stem-cell treatment for eyes
Posted on 06/27/2008 9:01:08 PM PDT by Coleus
The pharmaceutical giant Pfizer has announced that it is funding a new adult stem-cell treatment that could treat diabetes-induced retinal damage, a leading cause of blindness. Forbes Magazine says that Pfizer is funding the creation of a San Diego biotech company named EyeCyte to develop stem-cell treatments for eye diseases. The company will base its work upon Scripps Research Institute ophthalmologist Martin Friedlanders research involving stem-cells from blood and bone marrow. EyeCyte will receive about $3 million from Pfizer, which in return has the right of first refusal regarding the new companys products.
In animal experiments, adult stem-cells have shown a remarkable ability to target and repair damaged blood vessels in the eye, which are a key problem in diabetic eye disease and macular degeneration. "It is unbelievable. These cells know where to go and they target the site of injury," said Friedlander, according to Forbes. He said that in his lab he has cured mice 10 times over, but noted it is unknown whether the treatment will help people. Friedlander had approached Pfizer to fund his research because academic settings and government grants support basic research and not applied-process development.
Pfizer has put its flag in the ground that there is future in regenerative medicine," said Corey Goodman, president of the Pfizer's biotechnology unit. "The eye is a very good place to be starting--it is an isolated organ, and there is a huge need." Stem-cell harvesting for any possible future treatment for people with blood-vessel damage in the eye could require only that a patient go to the doctor and leave a blood sample. After adult stem-cells are isolated in the lab over a few hours, the patient would return and receive an injection of his or her cells into the eye.
A successful treatment could delay further blood-vessel damage and preserve eyesight for years. Mohammad A. El-Kalay, EyeCyte chief executive and a previous member of several cell-therapy companies, said he got very excited about the technology when he first heard of it four years ago because it appeared there could be enough cells in one patients blood to treat the eyes without having to grow more cells in the lab. El-Kalay stated that the company aims to have a treatment ready for human trials within three years.
bump & a reg med ping
This is no small thing. Recently I had to have surgery for an eye problem believed to be related to this problem. Fortunately it was corrected but many people have to undergo regular shots for this problem which is the breaking of small blood vessels in the eye that cloud the vision. Those shots cost the small sum of $2,000 a pop.
If anyone with diabetes or pre-diabetes doesn’t take this problem serious, wait until you have to get a white cane and are house bound.
Developing a complicated procedure to purify stem cells for human trials was difficult at Scripps, because academic settings and government grants support basic research, not the applied-process development required for such targeted research, and Friedlander didn't want to go the typical venture-capital route. So instead, he approached Pfizer (nyse: PFE - news - people ) about funding a company to commercialize the therapy. His timing was good, as Pfizer this April started a new regenerative-medicine unit devoted to therapies involving stem cells. "Pfizer has put its flag in the ground that there is future in regenerative medicine," said Corey Goodman, president of the company's biotech unit. "The eye is a very good place to be starting--it is an isolated organ, and there is a huge need."
The drug maker is putting in a modest $3 million to get the new company of the ground. But if the therapy looks promising in a couple of years, Pfizer has the right of first refusal to buy it outright. The concept is to combine "the entrepreneurial spirit of the start-up, but with the muscle and clout and access to resources of a pharmaceutical company," said Goodman. It's far from being a passive investment; Goodman says Pfizer's top scientists will work with Friedlander and his team. Goodman also says Pfizer would consider more deals like this in the future. The company has little to lose by trying new things. Its stock is in the dumps, and its main drug, Lipitor, will face patent expiration in 2011.
Few good treatments exist for diabetic retinopathy, in which blood vessels that bring oxygen to the retina grow abnormally, leading to leakage of fluid or blood cells. To solve the problem, doctors sometimes resort to the radical step of using lasers to kill retina cells responsible for peripheral vision in order to preserve enough oxygen for those engaged in central vision. Far better would be a treatment that repaired the vessel damage and restored proper blood flow. The first focus for EyeCyte will devise an efficient procedure for isolating and purifying the stem cells, called "CD44 high." Purified stem cells would be injected into a patient's eyes, where they would mature into support cells that could jump-start healing.
The object is to have a stem-cell treatment ready for human trials within three years, said Mohammad A. El-Kalay, EyeCyte chief executive and a veteran of several cell-therapy companies. When he heard about the technology four years ago, he "got very excited" because it looked like there might be enough cells in one patient's blood to treat the eyes without having to laboriously grow more cells in the lab. "The goal is to intervene with these progenitor cells, stabilize the eye and prevent things from getting worse," said Friedlander. If it works as well as he hopes, one stem-cell injection might prevent further damage for as long as a decade. Friedlander's stem-cell therapy could one day compete with drugs like Lucentis from Genentech (nyse: DNA - news - people ). This drug is approved for macular degeneration and is in testing for diabetic eye disease. Novartis (nyse: NVS - news - people ) also sells treatments for various eye diseases. Besides Pfizer, one of the few big drug companies involved in cell therapy is Johnson & Johnson (nyse: JNJ - news - people ). It is an investor in the San Diego biotech company Novocell, which is developing stem-cell therapy to cure diabetes.
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