by Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
(June 26, 2008) One of the world’s largest pharmaceutical research companies, Pfizer, has announced plans to fund a new adult stem-cell treatment that could treat diabetes-induced retinal damage, a leading cause of blindness.
The news came this week when Pfizer announced an unusual deal struck with a San Diego biotech company named EyeCyte to fund development of adult stem cell treatments for eye diseases. EyeCyte will base its work on Scripps Research Institute ophthalmologist Martin Friedlander’s research involving stem-cells derived from blood and bone marrow. Pfizer will invest $3 million in the company and receive the right of first refusal regarding the new company’s products.
In animal experiments, adult stem cells have shown a remarkable ability to target and repair 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,” Friedlander, told Forbes Magazine. He claims that in his lab he has cured mice “10 times over,” but noted it is unknown whether the treatment will help people.
Friedlander approached Pfizer to fund the research because academic settings and government grants support basic research and not applied-process development.
“Working withEyeCyte and Pfizer, I have every confidence that we will bring this potential therapy to the point of being tested in the clinic,” Friedlander said. “This is an extraordinary opportunity to take highly novel laboratory concepts, test them experimentally, and translate them into therapies for the treatment of blinding eye diseases.”
He’s hoping this liaison “will enable us to more rapidly translate science from the bench to therapeutics for the bedside.”
If so, stem-cell harvesting for people needing treatment for blood-vessel damage in the eye might be as simple as going to the doctor and leaving a blood sample. After the lab isolates adult stem-cells after 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.
“EyeCyte is delighted to have attracted Pfizer as an investment partner,”said Mohammad A. El-Kalay, Ph.D., president and Chief Executive Officer of EyeCyte. El-Kalay said he “got very excited” about the research when he first heard about it four years ago because it appeared there could be enough cells in one patient’s blood to treat the eyes without have to grow more cells in the lab.
El-Kalay said the company would like to have a treatment ready for human trials within three years.
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