The pharmaceutical giant Pfizer has announced that it is funding a new adult stem-cell treatment that could treat diabetes-induced retinal damage, a leading cause of blindness.
Forbes Magazine says that Pfizer is funding the creation of a San Diego biotech company named EyeCyte to develop stem-cell treatments for eye diseases. The company will base its work upon Scripps Research Institute ophthalmologist Martin Friedlander’s research involving stem-cells from blood and bone marrow. EyeCyte will receive about $3 million from Pfizer, which in return has the right of first refusal regarding the new company’s products.
In animal experiments, adult stem-cells have shown a remarkable ability to target and repair damaged blood vessels in the eye, which are a key problem in diabetic eye disease and macular degeneration.
"It is unbelievable. These cells know where to go and they target the site of injury," said Friedlander, according to Forbes. He said that in his lab he has cured mice “10 times over,” but noted it is unknown whether the treatment will help people.
Friedlander had approached Pfizer to fund his research because academic settings and government grants support basic research and not applied-process development.
“Pfizer has put its flag in the ground that there is future in regenerative medicine," said Corey Goodman, president of the Pfizer's biotechnology unit. "The eye is a very good place to be starting--it is an isolated organ, and there is a huge need."
Stem-cell harvesting for any possible future treatment for people with blood-vessel damage in the eye could require only that a patient go to the doctor and leave a blood sample. After adult stem-cells are isolated in the lab over a few hours, the patient would return and receive an injection of his or her cells into the eye.
A successful treatment could delay further blood-vessel damage and preserve eyesight for years.
Mohammad A. El-Kalay, EyeCyte chief executive and a previous member of several cell-therapy companies, said he “got very excited” about the technology when he first heard of it four years ago because it appeared there could be enough cells in one patient’s blood to treat the eyes without having to grow more cells in the lab.
El-Kalay stated that the company aims to have a treatment ready for human trials within three years.