ReNeuron Group plc has announced that its ongoing US collaboration with the Schepens Eye Research Institute at Harvard Medical School will benefit from an unrestricted grant from a US healthcare company to advance retinal research at Schepens.
The funding will be directed towards the first phase of a two year translational programme to take human retinal progenitor cells (hRPCs) towards the clinic in the US, initially as a candidate cell-based therapy for retinitis pigmentosa, a blindness-causing disease of the retina.
The first phase of the programme will involve studies to demonstrate functional improvement of vision after grafting of hRPCs in ophthalmic disease models. Systemic approaches to optimise the yield of hRPCs in culture will also be carried out in this next phase of the collaboration, ahead of future GMP manufacture of the cells.
Last year, researchers at the Schepens published research describing the growth kinetics and molecular characterisation of hRPCs developed under the collaboration with ReNeuron and their ability to differentiate along the photoreceptor lineage, both in vitro and in vivo.
Following transplantation in a rodent model of damaged retina, the hRPCs were seen to integrate with the host retinal tissue and differentiate to express the protein rhodopsin, a marker for the light-sensitive rod cells found in healthy retinas.
The hRPCs developed in the programme are also expected to be relevant to macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy.