Sunday, December 17, 2006

The Stem Cell Race: Underdogs, Singapore's Biopolis, China and the UK

The San Diego Union-Tribune Sunday began a three-part series on embryonic stem cell research globally, reporting that the United States is "getting a taste of being the underdog."

Reporter Terri Somers, who has followed the industry and the California stem cell agency from San Diego's biotech hotbed, also wrote a Sunday piece looking that the business side of the research.

Both Sunday articles are as comprehensive on their subjects as one is likely to see in the mainstream media. Included is a downloadable world map with country-by-country snapshots.

Here are some excerpts from the front page series called "The Stem Cell Race:"
"'For the first time, we have a lot of competition ... . I don't think we've had as much concern for another country besting us in science since the race to the moon,' said Dr. Evan Snyder, who runs the embryonic stem cell research program at the Burnham Institute in La Jolla.

"It is a competition with crucial consequences for San Diego County and California, home to leading stem cell researchers and 50 percent of the world's biotechnology research."
Somers continued:
"China reportedly is doubling its investment in stem cell research. But an air of mystery and skepticism surrounds China's work, because the country's regulatory guidelines differ from those in the West and because research from Chinese scientists has not been widely published.

"The United Kingdom already has invested about $198 million in stem cell research at 90 laboratories, of which 11 are licensed to conduct human embryonic stem cell research.

"Singapore, with just 4 million citizens, is investing $25 million to $29 million annually in research, excluding overhead costs and infrastructure.

"That investment may seem wimpy compared with the $609 million the United States government spent on stem cell research last year. But because of federal funding restrictions on human embryonic stem cell research, only $20 million to $40 million a year – about 6 percent at best – has been directed to that field.

"Money is not the sole catalyst of success. Scientists say supportive government policies that free them to concentrate on their work, national commitment and contagious scientific enthusiasm are just as important.

"'Here we are again, sitting on the beginning of another revolution, a possible way to provide cures rather than treatments," said Chris Mason, a stem cell researcher at University College London. 'The U.K., Singapore and other countries realize what might be within their grasp if they spend the money on the front end, and they don't want to miss it.'

"The United States, long the world leader in biomedical research and commercialization, is getting a taste of being the underdog."

Somers' piece on the business of stem cells said:
"Worldwide, only about a dozen companies are building a business based on human embryonic stem cells, and only three of those are publicly traded: Geron in Menlo Park, Advanced Cell Technology in Alameda and Stem Cell Sciences in Edinburgh, Scotland.

"Executives at several of the companies say the key to tapping funds at such an early stage is either finding someone with deep pockets and a personal passion for curing disease or possessing a unique technology to address a potentially huge market.

"Given the current business climate and the political and moral debate surrounding human embryonic stem cells in the United States, people in the business don't expect more competition to pop up soon."
On Monday, Somers will look at Singapore and its "Biopolis." Sphere: Related Content

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