Roche is stepping up its stem cell research activities by signing a deal with Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard University to use stem cell technologies “to advance drug discovery in areas of high unmet medical need”.

Under the terms of the three-to-five year collaboration, the partners will collaborate across a broad range of disease areas, with an initial focus on metabolic disorders and cardiovascular disease. Roche will gain access to “cell lines, protocols, data and materials” in exchange for research funding and clinical development milestone payments for any drug candidates that emerge from the pact. The partners added that a staff exchange programme “will promote sharing of expertise and a joint governance committee will oversee research progress”.

Jean-Jacques Garaud, head of Roche pharma research and early development, said the collaboration will ensure that “all our leading experts bring the potential of stem cell research to fruition”. He added that this technology “is like having a disease in a test tube and being able to test possible effects of drugs on 'virtual' patients - translational medicine at its best”.

In 2009, Roche formed a two-year collaboration with I-STEM aimed at discovering novel therapies to treat central nervous system diseases such as Alzheimer's, schizophrenia, depression and anxiety.