Nominations open for Stem Cell Person of the Year 2016 Award

Nominations are open starting today for the Stem Cell Person of the Year Award for 2016. Please email me your nominations: knoepflerATucdavisDOTedu.stem-cell-person-of-the-year-award

This is a unique award as it is given to an individual who has taken risks to help others within the stem cell field and they based their actions on outside-the-box thinking.

Another unusual aspect is that anyone is eligible for the prize whether you are a scientist, physician, patient, writer, student, etc. There are also no geographic restrictions.

The winner receives recognition as a positive leader in this arena and a $2,000 cash prize that I award myself out of pocket.

Nominations will close one month from today on October 15th.

The nominations I receive will then be subject to an Internet vote and the top 50% will be the finalists, from which I will choose the winner. While I alone choose the winner, I often get feedback from leaders around the globe in the stem cell and regenerative medicine field.

Previous winners include these stellar stem cell leaders:

Who will win the Stem Cell Person of the Year Award for 2016? Send me your nominations.

Good stem cell news as Takahashi IPS Cell Trial to Resume

Masayo TakahashiSome good news today as the pioneering induced pluripotent stem (IPS) cell trial led by Dr. Masayo Takahashi will resume.

This clinical study with a focus on macular degeneration has been on hold for quite some time due to regulatory changes in Japan. There had also been concerns over mutations in the 2nd patient’s IPS cell product.

As previous signs had indicated, the new clinical work will have an allogeneic focus, most likely drawing IPS cells from a bank.

According to a Japan Times article:

For the second trial, the CDB will develop retinal tissues from iPS cells supplied by Kyoto University’s Center for iPS Cell Research and Application, headed by Nobel laureate Shinya Yamanaka, the creator of the pluripotent cells.

Transplants of CDB-developed retinal tissues will be conducted at Kobe City Medical Center General Hospital and Osaka University Hospital.

This is exciting and I’m very curious to see how this clinical work develops.

In 2014, Dr. Takahashi won my Stem Cell Person of the Year Award.

This may also signal a door opening for other IPS cell trials in Japan including one for Parkinson’s Disease by Jun Takahashi.

Historic turning point for IPS cell field in Japan?

As many of you know, the pioneering, first of its kind IPSC clinical study in Japan has been suspended as I first blogged about here. 

In the comments section of that blog post there has been a helpful overall discussion that has involved Dr. Masayo Takahashi, the leader of the trial. It is great that Dr. Takahashi has been participating in this discussion and I commend her for that openness.RPE sheet_pr

This comment stream has been particularly important because the media have only minimally reported on this important development. There have been only a few articles in Japanese (several months ago) and as far as I know only one in English, which was posted in the last day or so in The New Scientist. Unfortunately The New Scientist article, as many have noted here, used an inflammatory title invoking a supposed “cancer scare” and some over-the-top language. Although that article had some bits of important info, the negative bias in the article made it overall not very helpful. Some readers of that article were likely confused by how it was written and the title.

The clinical study in question is for macular degeneration and involves the use of sheets of retinal pigmented epithelial cells (RPE) made from IPSC (e.g. see image above from RIKEN). Several of us have been discussing the suspension of this trial over on Twitter too including Dr. Takahashi (@masayomasayo). Some tweets by the community have been constructive. Others not so much.

Two main possible issues have come up in the discussion of the reasons for the trial stopping: (1) six mutations were detected in the 2nd patient’s IPSC and (2) significant regulatory changes are on the way in Japan that apparently in some way will delimit IPSC research there. Dr. Takahashi has indicated that the latter reason was the dominant factor in their decision to suspend the trial. The fact that the 2nd patient’s IPSC reportedly had six mutations that were not present in the original somatic cells warrants further discussion too. For example, when and how did these mutations arise? To be clear, however, I do not see (based on the information available) that there was a “cancer scare” by any stretch of the imagination as The New Scientist article had indicated.

At some point a restarted version of this study will likely focus on allogeneic use of IPSC perhaps via an IPSC bank being developed by Dr. Shinya Yamanaka. For many years the consensus, most exciting aspect of IPSCs in the field was considered to be their potential for use as the basis for powerful patient-specific autologous therapies. The apparent planned shift to non-autologous clinical use of IPSC in this case raises the question of how it would be superior or substantially different to the use of hESC, other than that making IPSC does not involve the use of a leftover IVF embryo.

This development also raises a 2nd question as to whether there will be a domino effect now of other clinical studies or trials that are in the works using IPSC switching to allogeneic paths as well. In other words, is this a historic, turning point moment for the IPSC field in Japan overall away from an autologous path? Or is the switch here to allogeneic just a one time, one study decision? More info on the regulatory changes is needed to help clarify the answer to this question and the path forward as well.

Hopefully the regulatory body in Japan (Ministry of Education?) that has made or is making the relevant regulatory changes will announce them publicly in detail soon.  If that information is already out there (e.g. in Japanese on the web) perhaps someone can find it and we’ll post it here.

New Interview With Masayo Takahashi (高橋 政代) on IPSC Trial: Guest Piece by Michael Cea

By Michael Cea
Stem Cell Analyst & Advocate
(editor’s note: piece was originally posted on Michael’s blog here; follow Michael on Twitter @msemporda)

 

Having followed closely the developments in programs using pluripotent based therapeutics I was fortunate during ISSCR2015 to have the opportunity to sit down with Dr Masayo Takahashi to discuss her pioneering efforts to translate Shinya Yamanaka’s groundbreaking iPS technology for debilitating retinal conditions.Masayo Takahashi

As most everyone is aware, the first iteration of the program, for advanced Wet AMD, has entered the clinic and been safely administered to the first patient – a milestone achievement for the field, which has been widely covered by the media, especially in Japan. However, as I learned first hand, this first step is but a part of a comprehensive strategy to address most retinal diseases by way of various cultured cell transplantation methods, depending on the patient condition – including suspension therapies and multi-layered organoid developed tissue. This was best described by Masayo “what I have said to the Japanese regulators is that ideally we need all cell types – sheets, suspensions, auto, allo – and the surgeons will choose which to use for each patient.”

Monkey stem cell RPEsBefore relaying the key segments of the interview, I wanted to express some thoughts of how practical and committed to the patient Masayo is. Her clinical practice is at the very heart of her professional vision – to bring relief to those that come to her for help. Disappointment again and again in not being able to help drives her passion for new therapies. She is both confident and open to the process that has already taken more than a decade and a half of her research. The goal being, in time, to have all the tools necessary to deliver on the promise to her patients and fulfill on that hope, that is very real and apparent today – something she couldn’t point to just a few short years ago. Her new message is very clear now “visual impairment is not as bad as they think and you can change that world – so there is hope – yes.”

Cheers

Interview:

Q: There is a lot of hype in the field how have you addressed that?

MT: When I started to do the regenerative medicine work the media broadcast our efforts and many patients came and they expected I could help them. But 10 years ago I was very nervous because after hearing the news they were disappointed in front of me so I started to talk to the media and educate. Every month we worked with media so gradually within this period they learned and suppressed their expectations so in Japan the hype isn’t so high anymore.

Q: Does the Internet makes things easier for patients to understand?

MT: People who can connect with the Internet can understand but the older people still don’t have access to the Internet and rely on the newspaper and TV but sometimes they’re informed wrongly as a result so I still struggle.

Q: Is that due to the technical language and complexity of the science?

MT: Common sense is different from the medical reality but the regenerative medicine area is very focused so we can use the media to inform the public correctly. Regenerative medicine won’t cure everything but if you think in a different way you can do many things. The “hope” should be the correct one. People need to learn the way of thinking of the scientists – in Japan people are very clever and gradually they have understood. So if you teach correctly they can understand gradually. It’s important to relay the correct information. Media sometimes tries to simplify as a need or belief in the communication method yet they lose the true message. Stem cells are a specific area with many unknowns – yes – it’s like a “black box.”

Q: You started using ES neuronal cells then moved to iPS and retinal cells

MT: Yes, a little background. I started in 2000 with ES cells and proved in mid-2000 using primate ES cells that we could treat some retinal diseases but we hesitated to move to the clinical stage because the risk of immune rejection. By that time iPS cells came out and I was very happy as I knew the last hurdle would be solved w/ iPS cells so we immediately started research using those cells and after 5 to 6 years of translational research in preclinical studies we started the 1st patient clinical application last September and we will judge the safety and effect 1 year later this September. We announced mid-term results in March and so far we don’t observe any immune rejection without any immunosuppression, which we expected as a result of using autologous iPS cells.

There was a famous paper in the journal Nature that the autologous iPS cells invoked immune rejection in a mouse model but I think the research design wasn’t very good. They transplanted kind of a tumor which would be rejected – not the iPS cells but the tumor.

Q: Was the surgery difficult for the lady (1st patient)?

MT: Yes the surgery was the most risky part. We were worried a little but the procedure was successful with no adverse events so far.

Q: And the next patient?

MT: We tried, we prepared but decided to go quickly to the allogeneic because the cells are already there from Shinya Yamanaka’s cell line stock. He made the 1st iPS cell line and they have come to our lab.

Q: Have they been approved as clinical grade by the Japanese regulators?

MT: Yes but about the protocol, we will apply within this year for approval. We should reapply as it’s allogeneic, different from autologous.

Q: Will this line be available to others?

MT: Shinya Yamanaka will distribute to various centers with one of the institutions being mine. So there will be a Spinal Cord Injury protocol, maybe the Parkinson’s disease trial will go to an allogeneic protocol, the hematopoietic (platelets) will also. So the various protocols will use that cell stock.

Q: Japan is moving very quickly, is that of concern in the community or is that in your mind appropriate?

MT: Most patients are supportive but some people worry we move too fast but really we prepared, labored and accumulated the data and the people who don’t know the whole data usually say you have the risk – that’s very stressful. So actually we don’t care what they say because they don’t know. Maybe it’s a social balance.

Q: Are you taking the trials also outside of your home market?

MT: In the near future. We made a start-up company, Healios, they made an IPO last week, they plan to do a clinical trial in 2 or 3 years time in the US as they need the time to apply the protocol.

Q: I’d like to get your opinion on the use of a monolayer versus the selection of a suspension protocol.

MT: The people who don’t know the disease think the big sheet is the best but there are many, various situations with the disease, various stages, various lesion sizes, so some patients need a large sheet. Ours is 1 x 3mm, people in the US are preparing a 3 x 5mm sheet, so some people don’t need such a big sheet and earlier stage patients don’t require a big incision, so cell suspension is more feasible.

Q: What is your current disease state target?

MT: Advanced Wet AMD and we pull out the neovascular tissue, so a big defect of RPE, and cell sheets are appropriate but if the neovascular damage isn’t large we don’t want to cut and therefore cell suspension is better.

Q: The market is fragmented – is there a synergy with other programs?

MT: The regenerative medicine area is different than the small molecules, it’s more adaptable, so the judgment should return to the clinical scene and not the big pharma. The clinical reality will determine application and the Japanese government knows very well about this issue and we cooperated to make the new law. The Ministry of Health accepted that regenerative medicine is different than small molecules and that all is needed is a small number of patients to get approval, which is a great advance, a revolution.

Q: Is safety sufficient in a small population study?

MT: Of course the accumulation of the animal data needs to be reconfirmed by 10 or so patients for safety but the statistical significance of the efficacy needs more patients to prove the probable efficacy. Companies can sell the products based on smaller numbers so we don’t need big big pharma for promoting regenerative medicine. Companies can sell but they must register and prove efficacy within 7 years with regular exams. Success will be a collaboration between regulatory and academia with insurance reimbursement playing a commercial role which is incredible and kind of a risky law. The background of that is that academia promoted the regenerative medicine mainly so we cooperate very tightly with government and will decide where to provide treatment after approval with rules later.

Q: Do you plan enhanced cell products?

MT: Manipulated cells can work better, yes. So far natural cells are the most feasible, as regulators don’t like manipulated cells or “supercells.” In future but for now natural cells are good.

Q: Can you speak to the adult cell types?

MT: MSCs are safe. iPS/ES are hard to control so are limited to institutes that can maintain them/control them properly but the industrialization for a standard treatment iPS/ES is very good because we can have one lot otherwise many donors and always a lot of changes so that’s not very good industrially. In the future the ES & iPS cells people can control will be the way to industrialize and standardize treatment.

Q: What are your future plans / next steps?

MT: Our next steps are to have combined stem cell sheets – not only RPE but RPE with Photoreceptors and perhaps the vessel layer. Like a dream in our institute, that has a very high developmental biology focus, we talk about the whole retina with blood vessels and will try to deliver the entire retina for retinal disease conditions that destroy all the layers. For now we are working on monolayers, suspension, photoreceptors, combined layers and ganglion etc with 2016 for the allo, 2017 for the Healios suspension and 2018 for the photoreceptors.

Q: Are you collaborating with other institutions – is that part of your plan, UCL for example?

MT: We are not actually collaborating. We have a communication and information exchange, like a think tank. We know how they promote and we are doing very well. We don’t have to hide. They use similar technology adapted from our work. The aim is to make a standard treatment.

Q: Is ownership not an issue?

For the company it’s an issue – I don’t care. Patients don’t care. Healios is very good and they are in contact with the NIH group and the Ali group (UCL) – maybe they collect good procedures from the world.

Q: Are companies in Japan are looking at this sector as a team approach – does this help?

MT: Yes, society of regenerative medicine companies in Japan are maybe 100 companies now under the F.I.R.M association. Fuji, industry, pharma – all diverse companies. Not as a Keiretsu but more an association. Companies are now interested unlike 5 or 6 years ago. I told many companies to help us but they didn’t in the beginning but now they do. The government has helped a lot having supported the industry 10 years ago but they see the reality now as we have the clinical application.

Q: How do you see yourself, as a leader, role model – is there pressure?

MT: Shinya Yamanaka is like an Emperor now – everyone adores him. About the pressure, we have accumulated the data so I don’t fear anything. I have a scheme for 10 years plus and a plan. I know all – from the cells, the pluripotency, genes, animals, disease, patients and social and no worries only a process to move along. There are some against us but if I listen to their talks I’m not convinced by them, I mean persuaded, something wrong in their logic. As a role model – maybe I should behave myself! Patients happiness is what I believe – not papers or money, not interested. Patients first, outpatient clinic is very important to me.

Q: How do you view Lucentis/Eylea?

MT: Wonderful – we saw AMD 25 years ago and there was nothing at all. So we just explained the disease as incurable for 10 years but finally it came out, it was wonderful. We knew AMD very well and knew Lucentis wouldn’t cure everything. The treated patient had 10 injections before surgery and her condition deteriorated from 0.3 to less than 0.1 even though she had the available treatment, so we stabilized her visual acuity with radical treatment without any injection.

By way of disclosure: I have no conflict of interest, financial relationship with anyone or company mentioned in this article.

Landmark IPSC clinical study on hold due to genomic issue

IPSC RPE sheetThe pioneering induced pluripotent stem cell (IPSC) clinical study in Japan led by top stem cell clinical researcher Dr. Masayo Takahashi has been stopped reports the WSJ in Japan. This development is confirmed by other sources and in a PDF report by RIKEN (in Japanese here).

One patient was transplanted in September 2014 with their own IPSC-derived retinal pigment epithelial cells (using an innovative RPE sheet, see image) for treatment of macular degeneration.

The study then moved on to a possible second patient, whose IPSC did not pass a genomic validation step. Reportedly, these IPSC contained a mutation, potentially in a known oncogene, which is a serious concern. Thus, the team decided to at least temporarily suspend the trial pending a possible redesign. The new plan could involve a change in how the IPSC are produced. For example, the team is reportedly considering the possible use of allogeneic IPSC as well, which could come from CiRA (Center for iPS cell Research and Application, Kyoto University).

It remains unclear at this time whether the mutation in the second patient’s IPSC was pre-existing in the patient’s skin cells or if it occurred during the reprogramming process itself. This is a critically important question to resolve. If the mutation was caused by/associated with reprograming then that would be a deeper issue.

Overall, this situation is of course a concern, but it also reflects the very rigorous and appropriate degree of caution that this team was using in validation studies. Notably, the first transplanted patient is apparently doing well.

I hope to learn more details from Dr. Takahashi and will pass that along on the blog when possible. She has also been tweeting about this development (you can follow her at @masayomasayo). Until we learn more it is advisable to take a cautious approach in interpreting this development.