Dainippon Sumitomo Pharma will invest ¥1.5 billion (about $16 million) to take a 5% stake in Retina Institute Japan (RIJ), creating an exclusive collaboration designed to develop new treatments toward various disorders based on induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells.

“Both parties look forward to working together to deliver therapeutic measures to the patients with refractory retinal disease as early as possible,” Dainippon Sumitomo and RIJ said today in a joint statement.

The alliance will also work to develop iPS therapies for age-related macular degeneration, for which they have identified a therapeutic target in patients with the disease. The therapy will entail transplanting retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) cells derived from iPS cells into the macula.

During the collaboration’s unspecified “mid-term,” Dainippon Sumitomo and RIJ said they will “strengthen their offerings in cell therapy and regenerative medicines.” Longer-term, Dainippon Sumitomo and RIJ said, they aim to develop additional technologies designed to restore sight, including photo receptor transplantation, retinal regenerative medicine, and diagnostic methods to make current refractory retinal diseases to treatable diseases.

“[Dainippon Sumitomo] expects this collaboration with RIJ will contribute to the establishment of its business base for cell therapy and regenerative medicines in the future,” the partners said in their statement.

RIJ is looking to commercialize the world’s first pharmaceutical iPS cell-derived retinal pigment epithelial cells, hoping to establish leadership in a market estimated at $21 billion by licensing technology developed by Japan’s RIKEN research institutes.

RIJ is one of 23 companies that comprise RIKEN Ventures, which aims to translate discoveries from RIKEN researchers into commercial products. Established in 2011, RIJ plans to carry out global clinical trials for a RIKEN-developed method for transplantation of RPE cells derived from iPS.

“We have succeeded in inducing the differentiation of RPE cells from cell iPS, with the same form and function in vivo of these RPE cells. In addition, from the cells, we have also developed a technique to fabricate the RPE sheet that [does] not contain artificial materials such as scaffolding [and is] portable,” RIJ states on its website, according to an English translation via Google Translate explaining its technology.

RIJ added that it is in “final-stage preparation” toward clinical application of the technology.

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