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Academia, industry join in massive iPS partnership
by Kelsey Kaustinen  |  Email the author


OXFORD, United KingdomóRoche and the Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI) have launched StemBANCC, an academic-industry union consisting of 10 pharmaceutical companies and 23 academic institutions that will aim to use human induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells as research tools within the realm of drug discovery in order to develop human disease models and further drug development. The undertaking was initiated and coordinated by Roche, and will be managed by Oxford University.  
"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," Martin Graf, head of the stem cell platform and coordinator of the project, said in a press release. "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 initiative will have 55.6 million euros (approximately $72.7 million) in funding over five years, with 26 million euros (approximately $33.6 million) coming from the IMI and 21 million euros (approximately $27.2 million) from "in kind" contributions from participating drug companies in the European pharmaceutical industry association EFPIA. The rest of the funding is comprised of contributions from additional sources.  
StemBANCC will develop a bank of stem cells for use in testing potential treatments for a variety of diseases, with the aim of generating 1,500 iPS cell lines from 500 patients across eight diseases. Companies such as Roche Holding AG, Pfizer Inc. and Sanofi will use the cell lines to determine the potential of treatments for conditions such as diabetes, pain, migraine, schizophrenia, dementia, autism, bipolar disorder and peripheral nervous disorders. The project will also determine if the iPS cells can be used to identify drug targets and biomarkers, test drug candidate toxicology and screen potential treatments.
"It's the perfect platform for finding drugs," Dr. Zameel Cader, a consultant neurologist at the University of Oxford and principal scientist of StemBANCC, said in a press release. "It's superior because we are looking directly at human cells from the patient, capturing the genetic complexity of the disease."  
The drug discovery process "is flawed and isn't working," according to Cader, who noted that the process "needs reshaping, and stem cells may help provide this."
The popularity of iPS cells has remained strong over the years, and has grown lately in light of its potential, particularly in regenerative medicine. iPS cells can differentiate into any kind of cell, such as cardiomyocytes, endothelial cells and neurons, providing new options for in-vitro testing and drug development.  
Roche, the initiator of StemBANCC, has experience with iPS cells, having worked with partners at Harvard University, Massachusetts General Hospital and Boston Children's Hospital for more than three years to create over 100 human iPS cell lines for use in modeling cardiovascular and neurological diseases.  
"Because the stem cells can be expanded indefinitely, we can essentially produce an infinite number of these patient-derived cells to work with," Dr. Sally Cowley, who runs the stem cell facility at the Oxford Stem Cell Institute (part of the Oxford Martin School), said in a statement. "They can be stored, shipped around the world, and potentially made accessible to any researcher anywhere."  
"People may be working with these cell lines for decades, if we do it right," Cowley concluded.
Code: E12061201



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