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Roche, Pfizer, Sanofi Plan $72.7 Million Stem-Cell Bank

Drug companies and universities are spending 55.6 million euros ($72.7 million) to develop a bank of stem cells to use in testing potential treatments for hard-to-treat diseases.

The effort, known as Stembancc and managed by the University of Oxford in England, will focus on generating 1,500 induced pluripotent stem cell lines, researchers said at a London news conference. The cells will be used by drugmakers including Pfizer Inc., Sanofi and Roche Holding AG to test treatments for peripheral nervous disorders, pain, dementia, migraine, autism, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and diabetes and to perform toxicology tests.

“This is a pioneering effort,” said Zameel Cader, a neurologist at Oxford and one of Stembancc’s leaders. “We want to be a flagship project within Europe.”

The researchers chose to use induced pluripotent stem cells, which are adult stem cells that can be reprogrammed to generate any type of cell, because they probably have the genetic information needed for studying the diseases, Cader said. John Gurdon of the U.K. and Shinya Yamanaka of Japan won the 2012 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for work on induced pluripotent stem cells.

The Innovative Medicines Initiative, a public-private collaboration of the European Union and the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations, is contributing 26 million euros of the cost; the EFPIA is contributing 21 million euros; and other organizations are giving 8.6 million euros.

The project, initiated by Roche, involves 10 drugmakers and 23 universities, the Basel, Switzerland-based company said in a statement. Other companies involved include Abbott Laboratories, Boehringer Ingelheim GmbH, Eli Lilly & Co., Johnson & Johnson, Merck KGaA, Novo Nordisk A/S and Orion Oyj.

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