The what, who and why of stem cells in ophthalmology: Part II

November 1, 2010

The second part of the primer on the use of stem cells in ophthalmology

In the second part of this two part primer we continue to look at who's involved in ophthalmic stem cell research, who they are collaborating with, what type of stem cells they are using and what diseases are being targeted. In the following section we continue to look at the companies involved in stem cell research.

Pfizer Regenerative Medicine (Cambridge, UK)Pfizer Ophthalmics (San Diego, California, USA)

As reported in the June 2010 issue of Retina Today, Pfizer Inc. launched the Pfizer Regenerative Medicine research unit in 2008 to lead investigative efforts in stem-cell therapies throughout the company. Building on Pfizer's experience in the field of regenerative medicine, this independent research organization aims to discover and develop a new generation of medicines for major medical needs across several therapeutic areas. Specific to ophthalmology, Pfizer's Ophthlamics division hopes to develop stem-cell therapies for patients with severe vision loss due to late-stage age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and other retinal diseases. Additionally, Pfizer's research unit is sampling stem cells in an effort to understand how retinal diseases progress.

Under an agreement between the company and the University, Pfizer will provide funding to UCL to enable research into the development of human embryonic stem-cell-based therapies for AMD and other retinal diseases. Pfizer's contributions will include expertise in the design and execution of clinical studies, interaction with global regulators and product manufacturing techniques - specifically the membrane containing the stem cell structure that will be implanted into the retina.

As discussed in the introduction to this Primer, I have written extensively about the London Project - see my write-ups beginning with AMD Update 5 in April 2009, followed by the latest information about the London Project in my AMD Update 7 in April 2010. Professor Coffey expects to begin human clinical trials in early 2011, based on safety studies being submitted to the UK's National Health Service later this year.)1–3

Pfizer is also investing in EyeCyte Inc., a company that is advancing adult stem-cell approaches developed at the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California, USA. EyeCyte's regenerative medicine technologies are under development to treat acquired and inherited retinal diseases that include diabetic retinopathy, retinopathy of prematurity, retinal vascular occlusive disease, AMD and retinitis pigmentosa.

Pfizer officials realize that it will take time to develop a practical and effective stem-cell therapy in ophthalmology, as there are many scientific and clinical barriers that must be overcome, Dr Eveleth, Vice President of Pfizer Ophthalmics, said. "In order to achieve the best outcomes and minimize the risk of stem-cell transplant rejection, researchers are working to develop culture and differentiation protocols that produce the purest possible populations of stem cells." Such protocols are not yet established; however, researchers are making progress.

Dr Eveleth admits that there is still much to learn about how and when these new cells integrate and grow, but he is confident that Pfizer will be a leader in developing stem-cell therapies for ophthalmology. "With the expertise of Pfizer's Regenerative Medicine group, the clinical and disease area knowledge of Pfizer Ophthalmics, the talents of our academic and industry partners, and the scientific know-how and resources of the world's largest biopharmaceutical company, we have the experience and the staying power required to develop practical applications of this exciting new science."