Thursday, May 26, 2005

stem cell confusion

There is nothing I can say about embryonic stem cell research that hasn't already been said by people much smarter than me---so I read this little item in the journal and it sure seemed to bring the whole issue into perspective.

"Recall what the President's August 2001 decision actually did. It allowed federal funding for research on existing stem-cell lines where, he said, "the life and death decision has already been made." But it forbade funding for research into new lines, which entailed both the creation and destruction of human embryos.
Critically, Mr. Bush's decision applied only to federal funding; it did not impinge on the rights of individual researchers, universities, hospitals, private labs, public corporations or states to conduct embryonic research. In other words, the President did not "ban" anything. He simply refused to allow taxpayer money to be spent on a practice millions of Americans consider morally offensive.

So what's happened, research-wise, since 2001? Given the rhetoric of some of the President's critics, you might think the answer is nothing. In fact, federal funding for all forms of stem-cell research (including adult and umbilical stem cells) has nearly doubled, to $566 million from $306 million. The federal government has also made 22 fully developed embryonic stem-cell lines available to researchers, although researchers complain of bureaucratic bottlenecks at the National Institutes of Health.
At the state level, Californians passed Proposition 71, which commits $3 billion over 10 years for stem-cell research. New Jersey is building a $380 million Stem Cell Institute. The Massachusetts Legislature has passed a bill authorizing stem-cell research by a veto-proof margin, and similar legislation is in the works in Connecticut and Wisconsin.
Then there's the private sector. According to Navigant Consulting, the U.S. stem-cell therapeutics market will generate revenues of $3.6 billion by 2015. Some 70 companies are now doing stem-cell research, with Geron, ES Cell International and Advanced Cell Technologies being leaders in embryonic research. Clinical trials using embryonic stem-cell technologies for spinal cord injuries are due to begin sometime next year.
True, many privately funded researchers complain about what they call Mr. Bush's "antiquated stem-cell policy." But we have yet to meet the CEO or entrepreneur who doesn't bridle at government restrictions, or who wouldn't welcome more in government subsidies under the heading of "basic research."
These companies are still raising private equity on the capital markets, and CFO David Greenwood tells us that Geron has been developing its own stem-cell lines, a process he says has only gotten cheaper as they get better at it. "When Bush made those comments in 2001 we applauded," he says. "We thought at the time, 'hey, this is a victory.' There was a minimum sufficiency of material to get the ball rolling."
All of which is to say that if embryonic stem-cell researchers can get this far within the regime Mr. Bush imposed in 2001, then surely they can go further without additional federal help. The same goes for the $79 million the President and his allies in Congress are proposing to spend on umbilical cord stem-cell research. Here, too, the government is spending tax dollars to subsidize a private sector that already has every incentive to invest."


Post a Comment

<< Home