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iPS cells: Five years later

Despite the proliferation of technologies to derive induced pluripotent stem cells since they were first described five years ago, this has been a technology in search of a home. The tide may have finally turned. In March, Cellular Dynamics International Inc.saiditsinduced pluripotent stem cell-derived product-iCell Cardiomyocytes-will be added to the drug development toolbox at Roche.

Other pharmas are also exploring applications of induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cell-derived systems for R&D, but broad adoption has not occurred due to a dearth of data validating their utility in most drug discovery, drug screening and disease modeling settings. Showing their utility as a basis for therapeutics is even further away.

Researchers and iPS cell companies alike need to show they can produce iPS cell-derived somatic cells in the quantities and at the consistency and purity needed to meet pharma's standards. They also must prove that the derived cells faithfully capture relevant disease phenotypes and biological processes.

iPS cells genetically match the organism or individual from which they are derived and are relatively easy to generate compared with embryonic stem cells (ESCs). Nor does the generation and use of iPS cells raise the ethical concerns of ESCs.

"iPS cells offer the promise of more relevant cell-based assays and better understanding of mechanisms of disease through the derivation of iPS cell lines from disease- or patient-specific samples," said Matthew Singer, manager of scientific development at iPS cell and reagent company Stemgent Inc. "Furthermore, the ability to generate patient-specific lines allows pharmaceutical and biotech companies to develop banks of cells with characterized genetic backgrounds upon which to screen for new drugs or test the toxic effects of drug candidates. And similar to ESCs, iPS cells offer the promise of a potentially unlimited supply of cells to replace the high demand and short supply of cadaveric cell sources."

In 2008, GlaxoSmithKline plcand the Harvard Stem Cell Institute signed a 5-year, $25 million collaborative agreement to explore the use of stem cells,

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