AstraZeneca to collaborate with the Harvard Stem Cell Institute in diabetes

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

AstraZeneca today announced that it has entered into a five-year research collaboration with the Harvard Stem Cell Institute (HSCI) to adapt a technique that creates human beta cells from stem cells for use in screens of AstraZeneca’s compound library in the search for new treatments for diabetes. The collaboration also aims to better understand how the function of beta cells declines in diabetes and research findings will be made available to the broader scientific community through peer-reviewed publications.

In people with Type 1 diabetes, beta cells are destroyed by an autoimmune response and patients must inject insulin to maintain normal blood glucose levels. In Type 2 diabetes, the beta cells either fail to function properly or their numbers decrease. Human beta cells for research are extremely limited in number and availability. However, a team led by HSCI co-chairman and Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator, Professor Doug Melton, has developed a technique which allows limitless quantities of beta cells to be produced from human induced pluripotent stem cells generated directly from adult cells, similar in all important respects to those found in healthy individuals1.

AstraZeneca will provide funding for a team of investigators at HSCI lead by Professor Melton as well as establishing an in-house team in Mölndal, Sweden, dedicated to the collaboration. Scientists from each organisation will work together to understand the biology behind the loss of human beta cell function and mass in diabetes, and to screen compounds against the cells produced to search for potential new medicines that could restore beta cell activity in diabetic patients.

Marcus Schindler, Head of Cardiovascular and Metabolic Diseases, Innovative Medicines and Early Development, AstraZeneca, said: “We are excited about the potential of this latest collaboration with Harvard University. Professor Melton’s group has made an extraordinary breakthrough in the differentiation of human stem cells into human beta cells and our scientists are extremely excited to be working alongside his team. Harnessing this new technology has the potential to transform the research and development of new treatments for patients with diabetes.”

Isaac T. Kohlberg, Head of the Office of Technology Development at Harvard University, said: “AstraZeneca’s commitment to establish and fund this collaboration will help advance the development of new medicines that may ameliorate the need for diabetics to inject insulin, and prevent the numerous, potentially fatal complications of diabetes. This collaboration is an ideal example of how academia and industry should work together to serve the public interest and make a difference in the lives of patients.”

The collaboration is aligned with AstraZeneca’s strategic research approach in diabetes which is aimed at restoring the function of the pancreatic beta cells as well as insulin sensitivity, irrespective of therapeutic modality.



About the Department of Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology and Harvard Stem Cell Institute (HSCI)

The Department of Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology at Harvard University and HSCI advance the understanding of human development and disease, support the discovery of stem cell-based therapies and cures for diseases, create collaborations across traditional institutional and disciplinary boundaries, and teach and train the next generation of leading stem cell scientists.

About Harvard University’s Office of Technology Development

The Harvard Office of Technology Development (OTD) is responsible for all activities pertaining to the evaluation, patenting and licensing of new inventions and discoveries made at Harvard University and Harvard Medical School. OTD also serves to further the development of Harvard technologies through the establishment of sponsored research collaborations with industry. OTD's mission is to promote the public good by fostering innovation and translating new inventions made at Harvard into useful products available and beneficial to society.

About AstraZeneca

AstraZeneca is a global, innovation-driven biopharmaceutical business that focuses on the discovery, development and commercialisation of prescription medicines, primarily for the treatment of cardiovascular, metabolic, respiratory, inflammation, autoimmune, oncology, infection and neuroscience diseases. AstraZeneca operates in over 100 countries and its innovative medicines are used by millions of patients worldwide. For more information please visit:



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1. Felicia W. Pagliuca, Jeffrey R. Millman, Mads Gürtler et al., (2014) Generation of Functional Human Pancreatic β Cells In Vitro. Cell 159; 2, 428–439.


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