Friday, April 17, 2009

UC Sounds Cautionary Note on Stem Cell Therapy Amid 'Guarded Optimism'

Rays of economic hope were scattered through two stem cell/biotech conferences this week in the San Francisco Bay Area – one focusing on industry and one more oriented towards academe.

The BayBio industry group sponsored one meeting in South San Francisco that attracted 700 participants, according to David Morill's account on, a Web site for six daily newspapers in that area.

While acknowledging the difficult economic times, Morrill quoted Matt Gardner, president of BayBio, as saying,

"We've had a couple of companies shut down, but overall there is definitely a guarded optimism here. There is a lot of focus this year on partnering and venture marketing."

No one from the mainstream media wrote about the other affair so the University of California presented its version online in an article by an unnamed author.

UC reported that 320 researchers, biotech execs and money folks attended the April 15 meeting hosted by the UC Office of Technology Transfer and the British and Canadian consulates. One speaker, Gregory Bonfiglio of Proteus Venture Partners, said the commercial market in regenerative medicine will grow to $118 billion next year compared to $3.6 billion last year.

UC took pride in pointing out that it has snagged $420 million out of the $694 million that CIRM has handed out in research and construction grants. The university did not mention that 11 of the 29 members of the CIRM board of directors, which sets both the rules for grants and awards them, have links to the University of California.

UC also fired a shot in the debate about CIRM's push into clinical trials vs. basic research. And given that the article came from the Office of the President, it carries some considerable weight. Here is what it said,

"The biggest contribution UC is making to this new stem cell economy is in advancing basic research and training, said Steven Beckwith, vice president of research and graduate studies in the UC office of the President, who delivered one of the keynote speeches at the forum.

"'There are now avenues where stem cells can be used for therapeutic remedies, but they're limited,' Beckwith said. The real potential won't be realized until we understand the fundamental mechanisms behind these cells. That's the strength of university research.'"

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