Stem cell scientists help speed up drug discovery

Newcastle University has announced a consortium with industry to provide stem cells for drug discovery research.

The project, called StemBANCC, is one of the Innovative Medicines Initiative's biggest projects with a total budget of €55.6 million. It aims to generate and characterise 1,500 human induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cell lines that researchers could use to study diseases and test drugs for safety and efficacy.

It involves 10 pharmaceutical companies and 25 academic institutions and will be initiated and coordinated by healthcare company Roche.

Scientists within the Institute of Genetic Medicine at Newcastle University will be generating the iPS cell lines, which researchers involved in the effort will use as tools for drug discovery with the goal of developing human disease models and enhancing drug development.

Leading the contribution at Newcastle University is Dr Lyle Armstrong. He says, ''We will be providing a Europe-wide resource for pharmaceutical development. The industry grade facilities at Newcastle enable us to provide the high-quality pluripotent stem cell lines needed to take this important drug development work forward. This contract has also allowed us to create four new jobs within the Institute.''

"The aim of StemBANCC is to generate and characterise 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 at Roche, said in a statement. "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 project will focus on peripheral nervous system disorders, central nervous system disorders, neurodysfunctional diseases, and diabetes. Researchers also will investigate the use of human induced pluripotent stem cells for identifying drug targets and biomarkers, screening potential drug treatments, and toxicology testing, said Roche.

Among the partners in the initiative are the UK Medical Research Council, Oxford University, University of Edinburgh, INSERM, DeCode Genetics, Pfizer, Abbott, Novo Nordisk, Eli Lilly, Sanofi Aventis and Merck.