The recent news of Vertex Pharma buying small stem cell biotech ViaCyte and Doug Melton moving to Vertex brought to mind an old stem cell biotech called Advanced Cell Technology (ACT) and its leader, stem cell biologist Dr. Robert Lanza.
Years ago, big pharma firm Astellas bought ACT and Lanza moved to be a leader of regenerative medicine efforts at Astellas. The idea was that Astellas would pursue ACT’s experimental human embryonic stem cell (hESC)-based macular degeneration therapy. This effort was already in clinical trials.
What’s up with Astellas and Lanza today?
Advanced Cell Technology and its leader Dr. Robert Lanza
First a little stem cell research history.
Some readers of The Niche will remember that Advanced Cell Technology was a huge deal in its day.
In addition to macular degeneration, ACT had other interesting areas of basic and clinical research as well. I thought their technology to pluck one cell from a human embryo to establish a line was interesting, for instance.
Robert Lanza was a bit of a rock star in the stem cell field for years too. ACT regularly made headlines. If you don’t know Bob’s story as a stem cell biologist, just Google him and you can read up on this unusual path. That story started with him as a teenager, messing around in his basement on chicken genetics.
When Astellas acquired ACT, it was known as Ocata by that time.
Astellas and stem cells for macular degeneration
Where do things stand now with Astellas?
It’s been very quiet over these seven years. I regularly get questions from readers of The Niche on what’s up with both the old ACT pipeline now at Astellas and what’s new with Lanza.
While Astellas now has trial listings on Clinicaltrials.gov for stem cells for macular degeneration including one active trial (not recruiting), nothing has been reported.
The wheels may be turning behind the scenes though. I hope so as the work was promising.
Robert Lanza exit from Astellas
The last time I got an update was a brief comment from Lanza five years ago. So I started wondering where things are now, especially after the Vertex acquisition of ViaCyte brought the old acquisition to mind.
With a little research and help from a friend, I found that Lanza quietly left Astellas in February of this year. I’m not sure what impact that could have.
Also, what is the reason for Lanza moving on? Does it have any meaning for the macular degeneration work? Here’s the Astellas page mentioning the end of his tenure there, with the key passage translated to English:
“By making Ocata a wholly owned subsidiary in 2016, we won a lead program in the field of ophthalmology. At that time, Ocata was a US bio-venture with about 30 people, but it has already induced differentiation of stem cells. We have a lot of research achievements in our research. Okata’s technology has contributed greatly to our clinical trials, and Robert Lanza of Okata, known as one of the world’s leading scientists in cell medicine. Dr. (Robert Lanza) was the CSO (Chief Scientific Officer) of AIRM until February 2022, leading our research and development. “
Looking ahead: Robert Lanza, biocentrism, new novel
I hope Bob Lanza starts a new company or pushes forward in a fresh way on biomedical research.
He has a relatively new book. He’s becoming well known for his writing on biocentrism as well. See a video of Bob explaining this theory above.
Also, he has co-authored a sci-fi novel due out early in 2023 so he may be focusing more on writing.
Getting back to the clinical science, maybe we’ll hear some encouraging news on that stem cell trial for vision loss soon from Astellas. I’ve reached out to the company to get a comment on where things stand or do a short Q&A.