Pfizer to Fund Development of Stem Cell Treatment for AMD

Embryonic stem cells are taking an important step toward becoming a treatment for age-related macular degeneration (AMD) thanks to Pfizer’s expected announcement that they will financially back development of this therapeutic approach at Moorfields Eye Hospital in London.

Researchers at Moorfields hope to begin a clinical study of the stem cell treatment in two years. If eventually proven to be safe and effective in restoring sight in humans, the treatment could be available seven years from now.

“Pfizer’s support of stem cell research for AMD is good news for the development of treatments and cures for AMD and potentially other retinal degenerative diseases,” says Stephen Rose, Ph.D., chief research officer, Foundation Fighting Blindness. “A major investment from a big pharmaceutical company affirms the promise of stem cells, and a large investment is needed for the treatment’s costly production process.”

Researchers at Moorfields will use embryonic stem cells to produce new retinal cells, which can replace retinal tissue lost to AMD. If successful, the treatment could restore the central vision typically lost to both the dry and wet forms of AMD.

Dr. Rose notes that while Pfizer’s announcement of support is an important step forward, much work remains to be done. “Stem cells are a very exciting and fast-moving area of research. We at the Foundation Fighting Blindness are aggressively funding a variety of promising stem cell projects and approaches at prominent institutions such as the University of Wisconsin, Harvard, and the University of Washington ,” says Dr. Rose. “However, stem cell researchers still have a hurdle or two to clear before moving the research into humans. We are working hard to get there as fast as we can.”

In addition to funding embryonic stem cell research, the Foundation supports adult stem cell and induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cell research. Adult stem cells can be derived from many different sources in the body. With iPS, researchers coax mature cells (skin cells, for example) into becoming like embryonic stem cells. Each type of stem cell has its own unique advantages and limitations.

The Foundation currently funds a variety of collaborative research projects at Moorfields Eye Hospital, including a landmark clinical study of gene therapy that is restoring some vision in people with an advanced form of retinitis pigmentosa known as Leber congenital amaurosis.