Pfizer Expands Into Stem Cell Research

As a medical therapy, stem cells offer, for the first time in history, the possibility of treatment and perhaps even the cure of human diseases which previously have been untreatable. Precisely for that reason, the business of stem cells is projected to be a lucrative one.

The stem cell field is estimated to become a $500 billion industry over the next 20 years, and there is hardly a nation on earth that is not targeting stem cell research and development as part of its economy. To be able to “get in at the ground floor”, in any business with this potential for growth, is a rare opportunity. Recognizing such an obvious fact, the largest pharmaceutical company in the world has now decided to seize this opportunity.

According to Dr. John McNeish, executive director of R&D at Pfizer, the pharmaceutical industry leader is scheduled to open its second regenerative medicine center in Cambridge, England, next month. The focus of its U.K. location will be iPS (induced pluripotent stem) cells and their applications in ophthalmologic and central nervous system diseases. Pfizer’s first regenerative medicine center, located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, already focuses on stem cell therapies for the treatment of heart disease and diabetes.

As Dr. McNeish announced to reporters last month at the World Stem Cell Summit that was held in Madison, Wisconsin, “Stem cells can help us make good decisions about which compounds will be more likely to be safe. These cells will be tremendous in drug discovery. They will help us understand personalized medicine, genetic variation, ethnic populations, and which biomarkers to follow.”

As the largest pharmaceutical company in the world, Pfizer employs approximately 100,000 people worldwide in the manufacture and commercialization of prescription medication, with sales of Lipitor, its cholesterol-lowering drug, exceeding $10 billion last year alone. As an indication of its commitment to the stem cell field, Pfizer’s new regenerative medicine center in Cambridge, England, is estimated to occupy a space of approximately 52,000 square feet in area.

Pfizer is not the first pharmaceutical company to enter the stem cell industry. Last year, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), AstraZeneca and Roche Holding together launched a new drug screening initiative entitled “Stem Cells for Safer Medicines”. GSK has also announced a $25 million collaboration with the Harvard Stem Cell Institute, geared toward developing the drug screening potential of stem cell technology.

The merging of “big pharma” with stem cell R&D is perhaps the latest and most significant indication of the rapid growth of the stem cell field, though this will certainly not be the last indication of its type.

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