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Astellas sets up regenerative medicine unit

Will spearhead company's efforts in cell-based therapies

Stem cellsAstellas has crystallised its activities in the emerging field of regenerative medicine with the creation of a dedicated research unit.

The new division was unveiled last year but officially started operations this week and will spearhead Astellas' efforts in cell-based therapies, focusing initially on developing a platform technology for the company. A recruitment drive will shortly get underway to assemble a team both from within Astellas and outside the company, it said.

The move is part of Astellas' plans to shift from developing products for mass medicine to 'precision' medicine, in other words therapies for defined patient populations based  on "molecular targeting and precise diagnosis".

The company has been working in regenerative medicine for a few years - signing a deal with Cytori Therapeutics of the US to look at the potential therapeutic use of adipose-derived stem cells - but accelerated its plans after scoring some research successes in a project with Kyoto University focusing on the development of stem cells that could be used to regenerate the kidneys.

Last year, scientists at the two organisations reported they had developed a technique to identify, harvest and expand the population of nephron progenitor cells within the kidney, which could be a source of cells for treating chronic renal failure and other refractory kidney disease.

In a statement, the company said it was now embarked on a "full-fledged effort in … cell therapy, in addition to the discovery R&D of conventional pharmaceuticals for regenerative medicine".

Like a number of other top Japanese drugmakers, Astellas has been revamping its approach to R&D, scaling back some traditional research areas and accelerating its shift into biopharmaceuticals and vaccines, while also increasing its emphasis on external collaborations.

Earlier this year the Japanese company formed a strategic collaboration with Switzerland's ClearPath Development to help advance its vaccine plans.

The latest shift into regenerative medicine comes in the wake of the Japanese government's decision this fiscal year to commit more than $1bn in funding for research into stem cells, and set up a national institute for health research, that will improve the governance and  funding of Japan's fragmented national research groups.

Article by
Phil Taylor

1st April 2014

From: Research

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