£2m million to York for stem cell research

Cutting-edge research by University scientists has been rewarded with a £2m investment from an American stem cell research company.

The study, which involves identifying the precursor cells of prostate cancer is being conducted by Pro-Cure Therapeutics, a business venture based in the York University Science Park. It was set up in 2001 to “commercialise output” from the Biology Department’s Cancer Research Unit.

The investment is coming from StemCell Ventures Inc (SCVI), an American biotech company which specialises in finding “highly innovative scientific projects” in which to take a joint interest, so as to “maximise its commercial input”.

Dr Alan Raymond, the CEO of StemCell Ventures, said that the investment represents “a major milestone in the transformation of both companies by combining world class science in York with global access to capital markets”.

The founder and chief scientific officer of Pro-Cure, Professor Norman Maitland, announced that “this investment by SCVI gives Pro-Cure the ability to translate our basic scientific knowledge generated in the YCR laboratory into the first steps towards a cancer stem cell treatment for prostate cancer.”

The work which has so attracted SCVI is an ambitious project to identify prostate cancer stem cells. It is, according to Maitland, “a completely new concept in cancer therapy”.

Researchers at the Cancer Research Unit have isolated stem cells which are unique to prostate cancer. They believe that this will lead to better-targeted treatments, and consequently a better quality of life for patients.

Stem cell research, particularly into the most potent embryonic cells, is an area which has frequently been the subject of controversy. However, research which involves mature rather than embryonic cells is generally agreed to be ethically sound.
Pro-Cure’s revolutionary new technique allows them to isolate cancerous stem cells, meaning they can identify the particular genes which are present in – and specific to – prostate cancer. Pro-Cure and the CRU have established a ‘toolkit’ for drug discovery which should help advance both cancer research worldwide, and progress towards the development of a new prostate cancer therapy.

Prostate cancer spreads to other parts of the body in approximately 30% of cases. It is in these cases that Pro-Cure’s research is thought to have particular potential. At present, if the prostate cancer spreads from the prostate to form secondary cancers in bone marrow, there is no effective treatment available.

Simon Newton, head of the University’s Enterprise and Innovation Office, believes the investment is an indicator of York’s position at the forefront of the world research market.

“We are extremely pleased that Stem Cell Ventures Inc has made this investment in one of our key spin-off companies. It is significant that SCVI is a US biotech company and we are thrilled that the US is looking to York innovations for investment.”

But Beckie Cooper, a Biochemistry student and Chair of the Biosciences Society, sounded a note of caution: “I’m obviously proud to be connected to a department which is doing such groundbreaking and useful research. But only as long as the aims of the department remain academic rather than in securing lucrative contracts such as this one.”

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