The view ahead for stem cell therapy

UK company plans large clinical trial of stem cell therapy for retinitis pigmentosa

Bright light

With the pleasing progress of its retinal stem cell therapy, UK research company ReNeuron has started planning a larger clinical trial of the potential new treatment for next year.

The therapy uses human stem cells – transformed into young retinal cells – that are injected into the eyes of patients with retinitis pigmentosa (RP).

So far, six patients have received the injections. In this early stage of the trials, the researchers are steadily increasing the dose of cells that the groups of patients receive, ReNeuron chief medical officer, Julian Howell, told OT.

“We have been very pleased with the progress [although] this part of the study is time consuming as we assess each patient for a number of weeks before moving to the new dose level,” he noted.

Mr Howell explained that the researchers are currently focused on the safety of the procedure, adding: “So far we have been able to increase the dose of cells without any problems.”

However, the patients who receive the treatment this year will also have their visual function rigorously assessed. It is hoped the therapy will be able to reduce or even halt the deterioration in vision experienced by people with the degenerative disease.

Mr Howell outlined: “We are exploring [measurements] relevant to improving the lives of patients with RP, and this ranges from central visual acuity, peripheral vision, light sensitivity and the ability to see in lower light levels.”

If the clinical trial beginning in 2018 is successful, it could enable ReNeuron to seek regulatory approval for the therapy to be offered to patients, Mr Howell highlighted.

“We are obviously very hopeful of developing a product that will make a significant improvement to the lives of patients with RP,” he emphasised, adding: “We have had many patients interested in participating in the RP research.”

Image credit: Zouavman Le Zouave