The German biopharma has teamed up with healthcare investment firm Versant Ventures to form BlueRock Therapeutics, a company looking to develop stem cell based therapies for – initially - cardiovascular diseases and neurodegenerative disorders.
According to Bayer spokeswoman Katharina Jansen, this is Bayer’s first venture in the field of cell based therapies and the firm’s foundations will be based on iPSC technology platform invented by Nobel Prize winner Dr. Shinya Yamanaka of Kyoto University.
“The Nobel prize was rewarded for the iPSC technology in 2012, it was invented in 2006,” Jansen told us. “In the timeframes of bringing scientific breakthroughs into application this is not a very long time.”
The technology - licensed to BlueRock from iPS Academia in Japan – is based on the harvesting of skin cells, blocking off certain genome segments, and reprogramming the blocked-off segments to produce an iPSC which can use the entire genome. These cells are then exposed to specific growth factors – nerve cells, liver cells, heart muscle cells, etc – to determine the type of cell culture into which they will develop.
Bayer and Versant have committed $225m (€212m) to the venture which will have R&D operations in Toronto, Canada and in New York and Boston, US.
As for manufacturing, BlueRock will work with CCRM (Centre for Commercialisation of Regenerative medicine) which has cGMP cell therapy production facility in Toronto offering both clinical and commercial scale.
“iPSC technology has the potential to successfully tackle some of the most challenging diseases on this planet,” Axel Bouchon, head of the Bayer Lifescience Center (BLSC), said in a statement. An initial BlueRock programme will look at regenerating heart muscle in patients who have had a heart attack.
“We are fully aware that this will take time and there are many obstacles to overcome. But by combining the best minds around the globe and providing bold resources we believe we can achieve this ultimate goal of curing such diseases.”