VistaGen, Sanwa collaborate on diabetes

Companies focus on use of stem cells.

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BURLINGAME, Calif.—VistaGen Therapeutics Inc., a biopharmaceuti­cal company specializing in the use of embryonic stem (ES) cells as discovery and development tools for novel drugs for the treatment of diabetes and central nervous system disorders, announced it renewed and extended the scope of its two-year-old research collaboration with Sanwa Kagaku Kenkyusho Co. Ltd. of Nagoya, Japan.
The work being conducted by the two companies centers around diabe­tes and the discovery of biological mol­ecules, growth factors and drug targets related to β-islet cell growth and insulin production.
"In our initial research with Sanwa, there were two major goals," says Ralph Snodgrass, president and CEO of VistaGen. "First was to develop mod­ified and engineered ES cell assays and validate those assays. Second, we wanted to provide as a proof-of-concept how our ES cell system can be used to identify novel protein biologics and new drug targets."
To accomplish the proof-of-con­cept, VistaGen provided Sanwa a collection of genes it predicted would be important in β-islet biol­ogy. VistaGen was able to take the genes and, using its proprietary ES cell technology, quickly re-engineer the ES cells, modify the expression of those genes and in the process got a lot more than just proof that its technology worked.
"Out of the nine genes we pre­dicted would have some impact, three of those had a significant impact on the growth of β-islet cells and the expression of insu­lin," Snodgrass notes.
Now, based on these results, the collaboration has been extended whereby VistaGen will apply its core ES cell technolo­gies to discover critical biological molecules, growth factors, and drug targets related to β-islet cell growth and insulin production. Sanwa will use VistaGen's cus­tomized, stem cell-based assays to screen its compound libraries for new drug candidates for treatment of both Type 1 and Type 2 diabe­tes. According to the companies, the partnership represents the first collaborative pharmaceuti­cal application of ES cells to discover novel therapeutics for the treatment of diabetes.
"We are very pleased with the success of this partnership and impressed by the speed and effi­ciency of VistaGen's stem-cell-based discovery platform, which has enabled us to identify multiple important biological molecules and drug targets important to dia­betes. We look forward to the next phase of our important partner­ship," says Satoshi Terao, Sanwa's VP for R&D.
Specific financial details of the partnership were not released, but under the extended agree­ment, VistaGen will receive funded research payments, downstream milestone payments, and royalties on product sales.
Going forward, Sanwa will take the specific assays devel­oped in the first two years and use them to screen its library of small molecules and protein bio­logics. Further, should any new discoveries be made as a result of the ongoing work, the companies have agreed that they will co-fund the development costs and equally share any profits that may arise.

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