Initiative will initially focus on metabolic disorders and cardiovascular disease.

Roche is teaming up with the Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard University to develop new stem cell-based cell lines as disease models for early drug candidate testing. The 3–5 year partnership will initially focus on metabolic disorders and cardiovascular disease and will expand to cover a range of other diseases.

The collaboration aims to develop cell lines that can be used to evaluate the potential efficacy, safety, and toxicology profiles of new drugs pulled from Roche’s compound library. The company says that the cell lines will be derived from the tissues of both healthy volunteers and patients with a range of diseases.

Roche will provide research funding over the term of the agreement and will have access to cell lines, protocols, data, and materials. The firm will also pay clinical development milestones for drug candidates discovered through stem cell disease models.

The ultimate goal is to use stem cells for discovering new treatment approaches and bridging the gap between the laboratory and the clinic. “This technology is like having a disease in a test tube and being able to test possible effects of drugs on virtual patients—translational medicine at its best,” states Jacques Garaud, global head of pharma research and early development at Roche.

Roche has forged a number of collaborations focused on evaluating stem cell-based approaches for drug discovery. In June 2009, the firm signed a €7.5 million (about $10.36 million), two-year collaboration with I-STEM (Institute for Stem Cell Therapy and Exploration of Monogenic Diseases) focused on the use of I-STEM’s neuronal stem cell proliferation technologies in the screening of Roche’s compounds for potential new candidates against neurodegenerative diseases.

In 2008, Roche partnered with U.K.-based stem cell consortium SC4SM (Stem Cells 4 Safer Medicines) to generate a repository of stem cells suitable for toxicology testing in high-throughput platforms. The initiative is being fund primarily by the U.K. Government, with Roche and two other pharmaceutical companies also contributing. During the same year the firm signed an agreement with Cellular Dynamics to test a number of its drug compounds for cardiotoxicity.

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