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AstraZeneca, UCL Team Up To Combat Diabetic Retinopathy

September 13, 2010

International pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca will team up with University College London (UCL) with the hopes of using stem cells to develop medicine that will help repair the eyesight of those suffering from diabetic retinopathy (DR), the firm announced in a Monday press release.

As part of the agreement, the London-based biologics corporation will team with researchers at the UCL Institute of Ophthalmology over the next three years. Together, they will work to “identify new therapeutic tools that can modulate the regenerative capacity of stem cells” and help develop medicines that can reverse DR, which is “now the most common cause of vision impairment among those of working age in Western society” and could affect over 400 million diabetic people within the next 20 years, according to the company’s press release.

“AstraZeneca believes that regenerative medicine offers new opportunities to develop innovative, more effective and safer therapies to benefit patient health,” said Alan Lamont, the company’s Director of Sciences and Technology Alliances.

“Over the next few years, stem cell technology is likely to contribute to a measurable improvement in our ability to discover and develop candidate drugs, and to target those drugs to the right patient population through a better understanding of the disease process,” he continued. “We are delighted to be combining our drug hunting expertise with the pioneering research ongoing at UCL.”

UCL Institute of Ophthalmology Professor Pete Coffey called the partnership “a great collaborative opportunity” and added that he and his colleagues were “delighted to be working with AstraZeneca to explore the potential of harnessing the regenerative capacity of stem cells to develop a cellular therapy for diabetic retinopathy, which is a major cause of visual impairment and blindness worldwide.”

Earlier this year, on July 31, AstraZeneca saw another diabetes treatment it had a hand in developing–an oral hypoglycemic known as Onglyza–win approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Onglyza, which was developed alongside Bristol-Myers Squibb, is marketed as a way to help control blood sugar in those with Type 2 Diabetes.

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