Yesterday, at a meeting of our governing board – the Independent Citizens Oversight Committee (ICOC) – we were delighted to see a project we have helped nurture from a cool theory into a truly promising therapy head towards clinical trials in people. The ICOC approved funding for a ViaCyte stem cell therapy for type 1 diabetes as part of our new Strategic Partnership Award initiative.
This initiative is an effort to attract more engagement and investment from industry in stem cell research (we blogged about that initiative here). ViaCyte got more than $10 million. Bluebird Bio got $9.3 million for research into Beta-thalassemia, a potentially deadly blood disorder.
We have worked with ViaCyte on this therapy over several different funding awards and at different stages of development of the product. Now, it’s going into a critical phase, finishing off pre-clinical and starting clinical testing. You can see summaries of all the awards we’ve given to ViaCyte to-date, plus a summary of the Bluebird Bio award on our website.
After the governing board voted to approve the award, Paul Laikind, PhD, President and CEO of ViaCyte thanked the board and the people of California for making this possible, saying:
“You have allowed us to carry on our ground breaking research which we hope will transform the treatment of diabetes in California and around the world. Thanks to CIRM this could lead to therapies curing type 1 and helping those with type 2 diabetes.”
CIRM had Dr. Laikind said CIRM funding helped ViaCyte greatly increase the size of its workforce in California, and to use our support as leverage to attract even more funding from other organizations, including the European union. That means more money coming into the state, and more jobs for Californians.
What was also gratifying was to hear from Jason Gardner, PhD, head of Regenerative Medicine at global health care company GlaxoSmithKline (GSK). They are in negotiations with ViaCyte to help take this therapy through the rest of its clinical trial phase and, hopefully, through to FDA approval.
This would be the first time that one of our grantees has partnered with a global pharmaceutical company of the size of GSK on a product we have helped support. It is potentially a hugely important step. Dr. Gardner reflected on the value of those alliances when he said:
“We are aligned on three levels; that cell-based regenerative medicine can be transformative, that this path is complex and high risk, and that this is best shared by those who have shared goals.”
CIRM President Alan Trounson, PhD echoed those feelings when he said
“This is one of the most important steps we have taken here in terms of bringing these therapies to patients. To have a company, a major organization like GSK consider being a partner with us on a program we have shepherded through basic science into the clinic is validation of our program. I think this will resound throughout California and the US. I hope this will be one of those moments we can look back on and say this made Proposition 71 worthwhile not just for California but, I would say, for the whole world.”
That’s pretty heady stuff. But when you consider that worldwide almost 350 million people have diabetes, and those numbers are rising each year, then a therapy like this has the potential to change the world around us.
Last year we produced this video describing ViaCyte’s diabetes project.