Researchers and pharmaceutical companies believe that stem cells, especially induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSC), hold great promise for drug discovery. There is a much excitement in the field, but the potential of iPSCs hasn’t been fully tapped. At least not yet.
A major collaboration between academics and industry hopes to change that for a small subset of diseases. Ten large pharmaceutical companies, including Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson, Sanofi, and Eli Lily & Co have partnered with 23 academic institutions to establish a stem cell bank for drug discovery. The initiative, known as the StemBANCC project, will be managed by the University of Oxford, and has received funding from the European Union’s Innovative Medicine Initiative and the partnering pharmaceutical companies.
Their plan is to focus on drug development for neurological diseases and diabetes. Neurological diseases have been notoriously expensive as drug development targets, and thus far results have been disappointing. By using stem cells to model disease in a dish, the hope is that induced pluripotent stem cell technology can help reverse that trend.
A range of neurological diseases will be studied: Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, autism, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, migraine, and pain. To do this, blood and skin samples will be collected from 500 patients afflicted with these diseases, and three iPS lines will be derived from each patient for a total of disease-specific 1500 iPSC lines. Induced pluripotent stem cell lines from healthy individuals will also be banked and available as control samples.
Having such a large bank of patient-derived stem cells with a small number of focus diseases is unlike anything else yet established in the field of stem cell research. For pharmaceutical companies looking to apply iPSCs to drug discovery, this centralized resource will provide both a level of standardization and access to large numbers of patient samples. That large sample base will facilitate candidate drug screening and toxicity screening, and hopefully a faster drug pipeline and fewer clinical failures.
StemBANCC is still in its infancy; its initial planning meeting was held in December 2012. As Zameel Cader, the lead academic on the StemBANCC project points out, the real challenge for the bank will be in determining how to distribute the cell lines to researchers to speed along drug discovery.
- D. Cressey, €50-million project aims to produce 1,500 stem cell lines for drug discovery. Nature News Blog, Dec 5, 2012.
- StemBANCC Project. University of Oxford Center for Health, Law, and Emerging Technologies.