The Niche

Business round up; Pfizer’s investments, CIRM grants, a facelift patent, Cytori’s fat deal, more

Pfizer’s stem cell moves gets eyeballs

Just a couple weeks after announcing its plan to use stem cells to treat blindness, Pfizer announced it was putting $100 million into stem cell research, including the blindness project with University College London (UCL). (See the story in Business Weekly) The Pfizer Regenerative Medicine Unit plans to hire about 15 scientists at its Cambridge, UK location, so a total of up to 70 workers at its locations in Cambridge, UK and Cambridge, Massachusetts.

In April, the Times Online, along with other outlets, carried the story that it would be funding the UCL’s efforts to cure macular degeneration with techniques that convert embryonic stem cells to retinal pigment epithelium cells. UCL scientists said they might be able to start human testing by 2012, and so stall one of the most common causes of blindness, and enter a lucrative market.

($100 million isn’t much compared to Pfizer’s approximately $8 billion research and development budget, but it’s a lot more than the $3 million given to finance EyeCyte, a bone-marrow cell therapy company, in June last year. Read more.)

An aside: Work at an earlier stage from Sheffield University describes transforming fetal stem cells into auditory neurons for potential transplantation to people suffering hearing loss. (See story from Reuters )

A day after disclosing a $4 million private placement, Cytori and GE Healthcare announced plans to commercialize Cytori’s equipment to collect adipose and other stem cells from patients in North America. They had already teamed up in the European market in January this year. The release explains that the North American agreement does not include Cytori’s Cellution System, which is designed to concentrate mesenchymal stem cells from material collected during liposuction, because it is under review by the FDA.

Cytori has heart disease trials underway in Europe and several more in other indications in Japan. Most applications are for cosmetic or reconstructive purposes.

Neostem has filed a patent for a “face lift” that injects fat and stem cells into a patient’s face. The procedure was developed by Vincent Giampapa, who runs the Giampapa Anti-Aging Clinic. We described this and other cosmetic procedures in a feature earlier this year called A superficial success.

CIRM announced its latest round of grants last week, and two companies were among the recipients. Among them, $5.4 million went to Novocell, which is working on diabetes, and $4.7 million went to BioTime, which is working on a way to expand human embryonic progenitor cells, which should be primed to differentiate but still capable of proliferating. (See preliminary work in Regenerative Medicine)

(You can get a list of all the recipients of the 15 early translational grants, totaling $67 million as a pdf.)


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