Roche, GSK, AZ team up on stem cells

Three of Europe's biggest drugmakers have teamed up with the British government to launch Stem Cells for Safer Medicines (SC4SM), a non-profit that will develop stem cells for safety testing of new drugs. During the first phase of the five-year, £10 million ($20.4 million) project, researchers will focus on creating liver cells which will then be used to test new drugs for liver toxicity. Unexpected liver toxicity is often the death knell for experimental drugs. After that, SC4SM scientists will attempt to turn stem cells into heart cells.

The partnership marks the first time large drug developers have become involved in the controversial field of embryonic stem cell research. "It has taken a long time to set up because of the sensitivities," noted Philip Wright, science director at the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry, who will also serve as chief executive of SC4SM. "We have an ethical framework that says we should only use existing embryonic stem cell lines [in the UK stem cell bank] and next year we will have an independent ethics advisory board to provide further advice." More companies are expected to join the consortium in the future.

- see the report from the Financial Times

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