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Roche, IMI launch StemBANCC partnership for stem cells as research tools

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Switzerland-based Roche and the Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI), Europe’s largest public-private initiative aiming to speed up the development of better and safer medicines for patients, have launched StemBANCC, a new academic–industry partnership that unites 10 pharmaceutical companies and 23 academic institutions.

Initiated and coordinated by Roche and managed by Oxford University, StemBANCC aims to use human induced pluripotent stem cells as research tools for drug discovery with the goal of using this new technology to develop human disease models and enhance drug development.

“The aim of StemBANCC is to generate and characterize 1,500 high quality human induced pluripotent stem cell lines derived from 500 patients that can be used by researchers to study a range of diseases, including diabetes and dementia,” said Martin Graf, head of the stem cell platform and coordinator of the project at Roche. “The cell lines will help implement patient models that will facilitate the drug development process thanks to the possibility of reproducing the disease mechanism in vitro.”

The StemBANCC project will focus on peripheral nervous system disorders (especially pain), central nervous system disorders (dementias), neurodysfunctional diseases (migraine, autism, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder) and diabetes. The project will also investigate the use of human induced pluripotent stem cells for identifying drug targets and biomarkers, screening potential drug treatments, and toxicology testing.

The research resulting in the creation of the first induced pluripotent stem cells was a major scientific breakthrough by scientists John Gurdon (Cambridge University) and Shinya Yamanaka (Kyoto University) who were awarded the 2012 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine. Most adult cells can only divide to produce other cells of the same type. For example, skin cells can only make other skin cells, and liver cells can only make other liver cells. However, in recent years researchers have developed a way of reprogramming ordinary adult cells to create stem cells that can be used to generate any kind of cell. These induced pluripotent stem cells offer a supply of different kinds of human cell such as cardiomyocytes, endothelial cells or neurons that can be used for a broad range of in vitro tests in research and early stage drug development.

Because these cell lines are derived directly from real patients, they include the genes that may be implicated in diseases of interest. Moreover, such cell lines have the advantage of being developed from samples that have been obtained from accurately screened and defined groups of patients. Having a solid database with numerous patients and accurate data on their disease is expected to enable a new level of insight into the disease mechanisms.

Roche scientists recognized the potential of induced pluripotent stem cells more than three years ago. Since then they have worked with partners at Harvard University, Massachusetts General Hospital and Boston Children’s Hospital to create over 100 human induced pluripotent stem cell lines that can be used to model cardiovascular and neurological diseases.

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