In all but the most aged and damaged individuals, the beneficial effects of much of the present generation of stem cell transplant therapies could in principle be produced by stem cell populations already present in the body. These cells just need the right signals and instructions to be put to work. Gaining a sufficient understanding of those signals is a work in progress, and the existing approach of stem cell culturing and transplantation has been an important part of that work to date - a necessary step on the road. It is still the early days in this field when considering the bigger picture, but it is interesting to see that factions within the research and development community are already forging ahead towards a stem cell medicine that doesn't involve transplantation:
OxStem has closed a £16.9 million ($24.4million) fundraising round to design stem cell drugs that treat age-related diseases. The £16.9 million raise - the highest ever for a UK academic spinout - will go toward developing small molecule drugs that can activate repair mechanisms that already exist within the body. The biotech was first founded back in 2014. Building on decades of experience in medicinal chemistry, OxStem will design drugs that can programme resident stem and stem-like cells in situ to treat currently untreatable age-related conditions. This follows in-line with other biotechs looking to "cure old age."
Just last month, U.S. biotechs Ascentage Pharma and Unity Biotechnology signed a research pact to help reverse aging, using preclinical data focusing on senescent cells. Google is also attempting to make a splash in the expanded lifespan field with its upstart Calico, although this very early-stage and the tech giant is a little thin on the details. Others are looking to older meds that may contain previously unknown qualities - the top among which is the off-patent type II diabetes drug metformin. Studies are planned from U.S. academic and government centers in the next year to see if the drug can delay or prevent some of the most devastating diseases of advanced age, from heart ailments to cognitive decline to cancer.
OxStem is focusing on stem cell science, and in essence aims to switch on the body's natural regeneration and repair systems. Current stem cell treatments mostly focus on injection of cells into the body and are available only in hospitals with access to the specialist laboratory facilities needed to harvest, isolate and multiply stem cells. The biotech said it however plans to reprogram stem and stem-like progenitor cells that already exist in the body with no need for cell transplantation procedures. "We will identify small molecule drug candidates, which can programme adult stem and stem-like cells to repair and replace tissues affected by disease or injury. We are tackling many of the worst conditions associated with ageing: dementia, heart failure, cancer and macular degeneration, which is the leading cause of blindness in the developed world."