University of Louisville announces global licensing agreement with Novartis for collaboration to help transplant patients

The University of Louisville’s Suzanne Ildstad 
is shown with
research coordinator Thomas Mille

The University of Louisville announced Wednesday a research collaboration agreement between one of its researchers, Suzanne Ildstad, representing Regenerex LLC, with Novartis. The agreement will provide access to stem cell technology that could help transplant patients avoid taking anti-rejection medicine for life and may also serve as a platform for treatment of other diseases.

This global licensing agreement between Regenerex and Novartis will significantly enhance the university’s ability to carry out cutting edge research related to the Facilitating Cell, a novel cell discovered by Ildstad, CEO of Regenerex and director of U of L’s Institute for Cellular Therapeutics, says a U of L news release.

“Being a transplant recipient is not easy. In order to prevent rejection, current transplant recipients must take multiple pills a day for the rest of their lives. These immunosuppressive medications come with serious side effects with prolonged use including high blood pressure, diabetes, infection, heart disease and cancer, as well as direct damaging effects to the organ transplant,” Ildstad said in the release. “This new approach would potentially offer a better quality of life and fewer health risks for transplant recipients.”

Ildstad published results of “Facilitating Cell Therapy,” which is undergoing Phase II trials, in March 2012 in Science Translational Medicine. The results say the therapy enables five of eight kidney transplant patients to stop taking about a dozen pills a day to suppress their immune systems; this is the first study in which the donor and recipient did not have to be biologically related or immunologically matched.

Ildstad was originally recruited to U of L under the state’s “Bucks for Brains” initiative for endowed professorships, advanced in by then-Gov. Paul Patton in 1998. Along with her research team, she began examining the facilitating cell platform technology for the treatment of kidney transplant recipients.

“Dr. Ildstad was among the first faculty members hired utilizing seed funds from the state to help us attract highly talented researchers through the Bucks for Brains program,” U of L President Dr. James Ramsey said. “Regenerex demonstrates the potential for that vision to be realized bringing new jobs to the city, adding to the revenue from the Tax Increment Financing district and providing funding to U of L in support of our academic mission,” he said.

The collaboration with Novartis provides for investments in research and applications of new technology as well as milestones and royalty payments from Regenerex to the university.

“The ‘holy grail’ of transplantation is immune tolerance, that is making the body recognize a transplanted organ as ‘self’ and not reject it as foreign tissue, but without the need for immunosuppressive drugs with their numerous serious side effects,” said Dr. David L. Dunn, executive vice president for health affairs at U of L. “Dr. Ildstad and her team may well have solved this puzzle.”

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