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ReNeuron And Schepens Eye Research Institute Receive Unrestricted Industrial Grant To Support US Retinal Stem Cell Collaboration  
2/18/2010 1:36:36 PM

Guildford, UK, 18 February 2010: ReNeuron Group plc (LSE: RENE.L) today announces that its ongoing US collaboration with the Schepens Eye Research Institute at Harvard Medical School will benefit from an unrestricted grant to advance retinal research at Schepens from a leading US specialty healthcare company.

This funding will be directed towards the first phase of a two year translational programme to take human retinal progenitor cells (hRPCs) towards the clinic in the US, initially as a candidate cell-based therapy for retinitis pigmentosa, a blindness-causing disease of the retina. ReNeuron has designated this first retinal candidate as ReN003.

The first phase of the programme will involve studies to demonstrate functional improvement of vision after grafting of hRPCs in ophthalmic disease models. Systemic approaches to optimise the yield of hRPCs in culture will also be carried out in this next phase of the collaboration, ahead of future GMP manufacture of the cells.

Last year, researchers at the Schepens published two papers in the journals Experimental Eye Research1 and Investigative Ophthalmology & Visual Science2, describing the growth kinetics and molecular characterisation of hRPCs developed under the collaboration with ReNeuron and their ability to differentiate along the photoreceptor lineage, both in vitro and in vivo. Following transplantation in a rodent model of damaged retina, the hRPCs were seen to integrate with the host retinal tissue and differentiate to express the protein rhodopsin, a marker for the light-sensitive rod cells found in healthy retina.

Importantly, although retinitis pigmentosa is the initial target disease in ReNeuron’s collaboration with Schepens, the hRPCs developed in the programme will almost certainly be applicable as cell therapy candidates for other blindness-causing diseases, such as age-related macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy.

Dr Michael Young, Associate Scientist at Schepens, Associate Professor of Ophthalmology at Harvard Medical School, and lead Investigator on ReNeuron’s collaboration with Schepens, said: “We are excited that this grant funding has enabled us to move our research forward rapidly with ReNeuron and bring this therapy closer to helping patients with blinding diseases of the retina.”

Dr John Sinden, Chief Scientific Officer of ReNeuron, said: “We are delighted that Schepens has received this industrial grant and that it will be directed towards our ongoing collaboration to develop a cell-based therapy for retinitis pigmentosa using human retinal progenitor cells. We regard this funding as a strong endorsement of the potential of the programme and we very much look forward to working with the Schepens team to drive the programme towards the clinic as quickly as possible.”

1. Growth kinetics and transplantation of human retinal progenitor cells Aftab, U., et al., Exp. Eye. Res. (2009) [in press]

2. Molecular characterisation of human retinal progenitor cells Schmitt, S., et al., Invest. Ophthalmol. Vis. Sci. (2009) [in press]

About retinitis pigmentosa

Retinitis pigmentosa (RP) is the name given to a group of inherited diseases of the retina that all lead to a gradual and progressive reduction in vision. This decline in vision is caused by the death of photoreceptor cells (rods and cones) found in the retina.

Night blindness and difficulties with peripheral vision are the earliest and most frequent symptoms of RP, with reading and colour vision affected later. The age at which symptoms start is variable and the rate of deterioration of vision also varies from person to person.

RP is typically diagnosed in adolescents and young adults and most sufferers will be legally blind by the age of 40. The disease affects approximately 1 in 3000 to 4000 people.

Source: British Retinitis Pigmentosa Society; Foundation Fighting Blindness

About the Schepens Eye Research Institute

Schepens Eye Research Institute fights blindness by developing new technologies, therapies and knowledge to preserve and restore vision. Through a continuum of discovery, the Institute works toward a future in which blindness is prevented, alleviated, and, ultimately, cured.

Founded in 1950 by famed retinal surgeon Charles L. Schepens, M.D., Schepens Eye Research Institute is the largest independent eye research institute in the United States and an affiliate of Harvard Medical School. Since its inception, the Institute has trained more than 600 postdoctoral fellows in various disciplines of eye research; trained more than 500 eye surgeons who now practice around the world; and published more than 4,600 scientific papers and books about health and eye disease.

About ReNeuron

ReNeuron is a leading, UK-based stem cell business. Its primary objective is the development of stem cell therapies targeting areas of significant unmet or poorly met medical need.

ReNeuron has regulatory approval for a Phase I clinical trial in the UK with its lead ReN001 stem cell therapy for disabled stroke patients. Patient recruitment for this trial will commence shortly. The Company is developing stem cell therapies for a number of other conditions, including peripheral arterial disease and diseases of the retina.

ReNeuron has also developed a range of stem cell lines for non-therapeutic applications – its ReNcell® products for use in academic and commercial research. The Company’s ReNcell®CX and ReNcell®VM neural cell lines are marketed worldwide under license by USA-based Millipore Corporation.

ReNeuron’s shares are traded on the London AIM market under the symbol RENE.L. Further information on ReNeuron and its products can be found at www.reneuron.com.

This announcement contains forward-looking statements with respect to the financial condition, results of operations and business achievements/performance of ReNeuron and certain of the plans and objectives of management of ReNeuron with respect thereto. These statements may generally, but not always, be identified by the use of words such as "should", "expects", "estimates", "believes" or similar expressions. This announcement also contains forward-looking statements attributed to certain third parties relating to their estimates regarding the growth of markets and demand for products. By their nature, forward-looking statements involve risk and uncertainty because they reflect ReNeuron's current expectations and assumptions as to future events and circumstances that may not prove accurate. A number of factors could cause ReNeuron's actual financial condition, results of operations and business achievements/performance to differ materially from the estimates made or implied in such forward-looking statements and, accordingly, reliance should not be placed on such statements.

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