CARE will come
Stem cell researchers welcome the provision in new NRW coalition agreement for the development of the Center for Advanced Regenerative Engineering (CARE)
Professor Hans Schöler, Director of the Max Planck Institute (MPI) for Molecular Biomedicine in Münster, welcomes the clear commitment to CARE made by the state government of North-Rhine Westphalia: “We are delighted to report that a firm agreement has been reached on the development of this important institute.” The proposed translational research centre will jointly further develop insights from basic research together with the business community so that they can provide a real benefit for patients in the form of new treatment and diagnostic processes. CARE was initiated by the MPI in Münster and Max Planck Innovation, the Max Planck Society’s technology transfer organisation.
“This project was an emotional roller coaster over the past two years,” says Dr. Ulrich Gerth, designated Managing Director of CARE. From complete euphoria to resignation, the road to the realisation of the institute covered the entire spectrum of emotions. “Ulrich Gerth made a significant contribution to ensuring that the euphoria always prevailed,” reports Schöler: “He succeeded in developing outstanding organisational and economically viable concepts for the scientific ideas that we aim to pursue with CARE. Together with the business development consultancy Wirtschaftsförderung Münster GmbH we were able to convince the politicians about the importance of CARE for North-Rhine Westphalia and far beyond.” According to Schöler, CARE is exactly the right instrument for the further development of basic research for the benefit of patients: in CARE, scientists will create tools and methods that will make the search for new drugs considerably more efficient.
The basis for the work to be carried out at CARE is induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS), which stem cell researchers Schöler and his team at the MPI for Molecular Biomedicine have been studying with enormous success: iPS are obtained from differentiated body cells and are able to develop further in many different directions. “These jack-of-all-trades cells have similar potential to embryonic stem cells,” says Schöler. “However, as the skin cells required to harvest them originate from adult donors, they are free from ethical concerns.” At the same time, the research on these cells is very application-oriented, as Schöler explains: “iPS have the same genetic makeup as their donors. If the latter are affected by a disease like Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s, the basis for it is also present in the iPS.” This is what makes these cells so interesting for drug research. The aim is to find, with their help, active substances that trigger the same reaction in cell cultures as they do in the cells of people suffering from the diseases in question. These substances have better chances than conventional candidates of passing very complex and expensive clinical tests: because the culture of the iPS cells is a biological and not just a biochemical system, substances can be tested here for their therapeutic effect and at the same time for possible side effects. Drugs that already display side effects in the iPS cell cultures can be eliminated from the further development process at an early stage. This will make it possible to reduce the number of animal tests carried out. Regenerative medicine is another area that will play a prominent role in CARE. The long-term aim is to enable iPS to be used therapeutically as replacements for damaged cells or even entire tissues.
The initial focus is on drug research in cooperation with the pharma industry, however. “The public utility of the initiative is clearly reflected in the structure of CARE,” explains future Managing Director Gerth: “The research projects will be mostly carried out in cooperation with researching pharma companies and, if successful, will, of course, be exploited by these companies.” The new institute will also work in close cooperation with the Lead Discovery Center GmbH, a spin-off of Max Planck Innovation, which will provide access to various substance libraries, among other things. According to Gerth, it is important that, as a public institution, CARE also benefit from the profits generated, for example through licensing agreements, with the intention that the research be financed - and, if possible, so that CARE can operate without further state funding after the initial start-up finance recently granted by the coalition partners.