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Harvard Stem Cell Lab Signs Two Major Partnerships to Bring Stem Cell Therapies for Diabetes to Life

Published: 4/16/15
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By Emma Ryan

Twitter Summary: @Harvard + Melton stem cell lab announce two new partnerships to bring stem cell therapies for #diabetes closer to reality

Dr. Doug Melton and colleagues at the Harvard Stem Cell Institute recently announced new partnerships with Novartis and AstraZeneca to advance stem cell research for type 1 diabetes. Dr. Melton’s team made waves last October after discovering a novel method to generate insulin-producing cells from stem cells, which in theory could be implanted into people with type 1 diabetes. To take this research further, Dr. Melton has since co-founded Semma Therapeutics, a start-up aimed at bringing his lab’s work in mice to humans that recently raised $44 million from investors (quite impressive!). The Novartis and Astra Zeneca partnerships are major steps towards bringing this work to humans; see what they are trying to do below:

  • Novartis has teamed up with Semma Therapeutics to help bring Dr. Melton’s stem cell treatments to humans. Novartis would assist in bringing Dr. Melton’s work through clinical “proof of concept” trials, to answer initial questions (e.g. is this treatment safe, does it work?) necessary to move forward into larger, more extensive trials. It’s pretty important to again note that their work isn’t in humans yet – and this work is far from easy. Still, with Ann Taylor running things as the Head of Translational Medicine Diabetes and Metabolism at Novartis – we’ve got heaps of confidence, as she’s an extraordinarily respected leader in this field.

  • AstraZeneca has also announced a five-year collaboration with the Harvard Stem Cell Institute to fund additional research in Dr. Melton’s lab. As Dr. Melton’s stem cell method can produce a large number of cells for study, it can serve as a good source for further research. Indeed, AstraZeneca aims to potentially identify new drugs for diabetes using these cells, as well as to establish a better understanding of why beta cells in diabetes malfunction in the first place. Here again, the leadership team at AstraZeneca is the real deal, with experts like CEO Pascal Soriot, Head Medical Officer Dr. John Yee, and Vice President of Diabetes Topher Brooke at the healm. 

Dr. Melton’s lab is not the only group making progress on stem cell research. Both ViaCyte and BetaLogics have developed their own methods for creating insulin-producing cells from stem cells. Of the three groups, ViaCyte is the farthest along, having already begun clinical trials in humans. Even so, ViaCyte has suggested that its treatment would reach the FDA for approval in 2019 or 2020 at the earliest, and a lot must go right for that to happen. While there is still a long, long way to go until these treatments could reach patients, if successful, they could potentially revolutionize the treatment of type 1 diabetes and potentially provide insights into type 2 diabetes as well. –AJW/ER/KC

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