AstraZeneca and UCL join forces in sight-related stem cell medicine

13 September 2010

AstraZeneca and UCL have today entered into a collaboration to develop regenerative medicines for diabetic retinopathy (DR).

Using a microscope

DR is now the most common cause of vision impairment among people of working age in Western society. The majority of patients with type 1 diabetes will develop retinopathy and about 20–30% will become blind.

Moreover, a large number of patients with type 2 diabetes will develop retinopathy as their underlying disease progresses. With the global epidemic of type 2 diabetes, this predicament is set to worsen as over 438 million people are projected to suffer from diabetes and its complications by 2030.

Under the terms of the three-year agreement, AstraZeneca and scientists at the UCL Institute of Ophthalmology will collaborate to identify new therapeutic tools that can modulate the regenerative capacity of stem cells.

Dr Marcus Fruttiger of the UCL Institute of Ophthalmology is leading the project. He explained: “These tools could be used either to manufacture transplantable material or to directly stimulate new cell growth in the eye to help restore or improve the vision of those with DR.”

Alan Lamont, Director of Sciences and Technology Alliances at AstraZeneca, said: “AstraZeneca believes that regenerative medicine offers new opportunities to develop innovative, more effective and safer therapies to benefit patient health. Over the next few years, stem cell technology is likely to contribute to a measurable improvement in our ability to discover and develop candidate drugs, and to target those drugs to the right patient population through a better understanding of the disease process. We are delighted to be combining our drug hunting expertise with the pioneering research ongoing at UCL.”

Professor Pete Coffey, UCL Institute of Ophthalmology, added: “This is a great collaborative opportunity and we’re delighted to be working with AstraZeneca to explore the potential of harnessing the regenerative capacity of stem cells to develop a cellular therapy for diabetic retinopathy, which is a major cause of visual impairment and blindness worldwide. AstraZeneca has a proven track record in developing medicines and their involvement in this type of research is very exciting.”

Homepage image: ‘My eye! my beautiful eye’ by Fausto Fernos on Flickr. Some rights reserved


UCL context

The UCL Institute of Ophthalmology aims to develop new treatments for eye disease out of a large and varied foundation of basic research. Its researchers work very closely with Moorfields Eye Hospital NHS Foundation Trust and are part of UCL Biomedicine, one of the largest aggregates of biomedical expertise in the world.

The range of diseases studied extends from inherited retinal degenerations affecting young children to age-related macular degeneration and glaucoma, the most common causes of blindness in the elderly. Currently groups are investigating every stage of the visual process from the mechanics of rods and cones to the brain’s interpretation of complex visual scenes. The institute’s researchers are making progress in understanding the basic mechanisms of blinding disease and investigating new methods of treatment by conventional pharmacology, gene therapy and cellular therapy including stem cells.

Moorfields Eye Hospital, Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children, UCLH, the Royal Free and UCL together form UCL Partners, Europe’s largest academic health science partnership.

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