Pharmaceutical giant Pfizer is to fund new research that could lead to the development of a treatment for the most common cause of blindness – age-related macular degeneration (AMD).
Under an agreement with scientists at University College London (UCL), Pfizer will have an exclusive option to conduct clinical trials of the stem cell therapy. It will also have the right to commercialise any resulting product.
More than 500,000 people in the UK suffer from AMD, which causes progressive loss of cells in the retina. The new research will build on previous studies that have managed to reverse eye damage from the disease in animals by using embryonic stem cells to grow new eye tissue.
Professor Pete Coffey and colleagues at UCL aim to begin trials in patients in the next two years, backed by Pfizer’s funding and logistical support.
Embryonic stem-cell therapy has attracted limited investment from the pharmaceutical industry until now because it was not seen as commercially viable.
However, the UCL team’s research, together with a decision by the US Food and Drug Administration earlier this year to allow the Geron Corporation to carry out clinical trials of a spinal paralysis treatment, have paved the way for commercial firms to look at developing similar therapies.
Copyright Press Association 2009