Johnson & Johnson enters pact with ViaCyte to develop stem cell-based treatments for diabetes

Johnson & Johnson reached an agreement with ViaCyte to co-develop stem cell-based therapies for the treatment of type 1 diabetes, ViaCyte reported Thursday. Under the agreed terms, the assets of Johnson & Johnson's Janssen BetaLogics group will be consolidated into ViaCyte, with the latter granted an exclusive license to all Janssen BetaLogics intellectual property in the field of metabolic disease, including diabetes. ViaCyte CEO Paul Laikind said "by combining the intellectual property and other assets of BetaLogics with ViaCyte, we will further strengthen our advanced programme focused on insulin-dependent diabetes and solidify our leadership in the field."

The agreement extends a previously announced deal between the companies granting Johnson & Johnson future rights to evaluate a transaction related to the investigational stem cell-based diabetes therapy VC-01. Meanwhile, Johnson & Johnson's head of global innovation Diego Miralles noted that the company has been conducting its own research on stem cell-based treatments for diabetes for more than a decade. "We wanted to hedge our bets to make sure we would win in this space...that is so transformational," Miralles stated.

ViaCyte noted that VC-01 consists of human pancreatic progenitor cells named PEC-01 cells that are encapsulated in the semi-permeable Encaptra drug delivery system. The company explained "the Encaptra system is designed to deliver the cells to the patient and protect them from attack by the patient's immune system."

In preliminary results from the STEP ONE Phase I/II clinical trial, in which patients received a small dose of insulin-producing cells inside their devices, VC-01 was found to attach properly to blood cells, while insulin-producing cells were observed to multiply without side effects.

"Three months after implantation, the cells are surviving, they are proliferating…the device is vascularised, and they are differentiating,” Laikind noted, adding "we can show markers of insulin production in the cells." The company plans to implant the device into another group of patients, and if successful, another round of testing utilising a full dose of insulin-producing cells will be initiated.

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