Academia, industry join in massive iPS partnership

Partnership to be funded on $72.7 million from IMI, "in kind" contributions

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OXFORD, United Kingdom—Roche and the Innovative MedicinesInitiative (IMI) have launched StemBANCC, an academic-industry union consistingof 10 pharmaceutical companies and 23 academic institutions that will aim touse human induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells as research tools within therealm of drug discovery in order to develop human disease models and furtherdrug development. The undertaking was initiated and coordinated by Roche, andwill be managed by Oxford University.
"The aim of StemBANCC is to generate and characterize 1,500high-quality human induced pluripotent stem cell lines derived from 500patients that can be used by researchers to study a range of diseases includingdiabetes and dementia," Martin Graf, head of the stem cell platform andcoordinator of the project, said in a press release. "The cell lines will helpimplement patient models that will facilitate the drug development processthanks 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 $27.2million) from "in kind" contributions from participating drug companies in theEuropean pharmaceutical industry association EFPIA. The rest of the funding iscomprised of contributions from additional sources.
StemBANCC will develop a bank of stem cells for use intesting potential treatments for a variety of diseases, with the aim ofgenerating 1,500 iPS cell lines from 500 patients across eight diseases.Companies such as Roche Holding AG, Pfizer Inc. and Sanofi will use the celllines to determine the potential of treatments for conditions such as diabetes,pain, migraine, schizophrenia, dementia, autism, bipolar disorder andperipheral nervous disorders. The project will also determine if the iPS cellscan be used to identify drug targets and biomarkers, test drug candidatetoxicology and screen potential treatments.
"It's the perfect platform for finding drugs," Dr. ZameelCader, a consultant neurologist at the University of Oxford and principalscientist of StemBANCC, said in a press release. "It's superior because we arelooking directly at human cells from the patient, capturing the geneticcomplexity 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 cellsmay help provide this." 
The popularity of iPS cells has remained strong over theyears, and has grown lately in light of its potential, particularly inregenerative medicine. iPS cells can differentiate into any kind of cell, suchas cardiomyocytes, endothelial cells and neurons, providing new options for in-vitro testing and drug development.
Roche, the initiator of StemBANCC, has experience with iPScells, having worked with partners at Harvard University, Massachusetts GeneralHospital and Boston Children's Hospital for more than three years to createover 100 human iPS cell lines for use in modeling cardiovascular andneurological diseases.
"Because the stem cells can be expanded indefinitely, we canessentially produce an infinite number of these patient-derived cells to workwith," Dr. Sally Cowley, who runs the stem cell facility at the Oxford StemCell Institute (part of the Oxford Martin School), said in a statement. "Theycan be stored, shipped around the world, and potentially made accessible to anyresearcher anywhere."
"People may be working with these cell lines for decades, ifwe do it right," Cowley concluded.

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