UCL–Pfizer to develop pioneering stem cell sight therapies

24 April 2009

An eye affected by Age-Related Macular Degeneration

UCL has entered into a collaboration with the biopharmaceutical group Pfizer, negotiated by UCL Business, to advance development of stem cell-based therapies for age-related macular degeneration (AMD).

AMD affects around a quarter of people over the age of 60 in the UK. The condition arises when cells supporting the light-sensitive cells in the retina fail, causing progressive loss of sight. There are two forms of AMD, ‘wet’ or ‘dry’. While recent advances have produced a therapy for the wet form, unfortunately there is no current or emerging therapy for the dry form.

The London Project to Cure Blindness, led by Professor Pete Coffey (UCL Institute of Ophthalmology), is involved in producing a cell replacement therapy from human embryonic cells; a therapy which it aims to introduce into clinics by 2011. The goal is to replace cells essential for “seeing” lost through disease at the back of the eye.

The UCL–Pfizer collaboration will accelerate the research process by bringing together the pioneering work of UCL’s researchers in the field of cell-based therapies and Pfizer’s expertise in design and delivery of therapeutics.

Under the terms of the agreement, Pfizer will provide funding to UCL to enable research into the development of stem cell-based therapies for AMD as well as other retinal diseases. Pfizer will also contribute expertise in the design and execution of clinical studies, interaction with global regulators, and in product manufacturing techniques.  

After the completion of preclinical safety studies, Pfizer will have the option to conduct clinical trials to determine efficacy of treatment and commercialise any resulting product.

Professor Pete Coffey

Professor Coffey commented: “We have not only the benefit of Pfizer’s experience of the regulatory process and their expertise in stem cell technology but the ability, if this works, to produce on a much larger scale.  It has huge implications, not only for our project, but for the field of regenerative medicine as a whole.  And it is great that Britain is at the forefront of this research.”

Dr Ruth McKernan, Chief Scientific Officer of Pfizer Regenerative Medicine, added: “While we have much to learn about how stem cells can be used therapeutically, we are confident that this relationship will increase that understanding and help us to advance to a time when our work may benefit patients worldwide.”

The announcement of the collaboration coincides with the official launch of the UCL Centre for Stem Cells and Regenerative Medicine taking place on 24 April 2009. The event will gather together some of the key figures in this area of scientific research to discuss the latest trends and developments in the field.  

Professor Claudio Stern

Professor Claudio Stern, Head of UCL Cell and Developmental Biology and Chair of the steering committee for the new centre, said: “UCL has many scientists working in the field of stem cells, but until very recently they were working in relative isolation from each other. The enhanced communication provided by the new centre will greatly improve the flow of information between basic and clinical scientists that is absolutely crucial for this field to move forward. It will also provide an opportunity to engage physical scientists, chemists, mathematicians, engineers and materials scientists alongside lawyers, ethicists and many others across almost all disciplines at UCL that have so much to contribute to this rapidly advancing field.”

The centre brings together over 130 research groups from several faculties, specialised hospitals and institutes across UCL with a common interest in all aspects of stem cells, tissue engineering, repair and regeneration, and the development of their therapeutic and biotechnological potential. The work of the centre will also address the societal implications and socioeconomic impact of this innovative research, as well as ethical and legal issues.

Image 1: An eye affected by Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD)
Image 2: Professor Pete Coffey
Image 3: Professor Claudio Stern


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UCL Context
Stem cell research is highly multi-disciplinary and incorporates ideas and technologies beyond the faculties of Life and Biomedical Sciences. The network of research includes Engineering, Nanotechnology, Mathematics and the Physical Sciences, Computing, Bioinformatics and Chemistry. Below are some examples of UCL’s engagement with stem cell research and regenerative medicine.

Watch Professor Coffey's lunch hour lecture, titled 'Stemming vision loss with stem cells: seeing is believing' online.

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