The Niche

How can taxpayer-funded stem-cell initiatives ease research, commercialization?

Maryland has just issued requests for proposals in stem cell research for a series of five-year grants for projects with supporting data plus two-year grants for more exploratory research. Graduate students and post-docs across the U.S. can apply to work in Maryland stem-cell labs for fellowships worth up to $55,000.

Elsewhere, initiatives to push stem-cell products toward commercialization are hitting snags. A few weeks after its head was ousted and its board resigned en masse, the Australian Stem Cell Centre has a new interim head and board of directors. (See The Age) The agency has been having a tumultuous time, sparked by debates over whether to follow basic or commercial research. Though a 2006 review of the centre gave it good marks, the ASCC board fired it head Stephen Livesey, after a negative review of the centre. He told an Australian newspaper, that he was frustrated by stakeholders’ skeptical attitudes toward commercialization. See Infighting clouds stem cell centre’s future .

The Australian quotes Alan Trounson, head of the California Institute of Regenerative Medicine, co-founded ASCC in 2002, said the organization “needed to restructure”. Ironically, the structure of the California Institute of Regenerative Medicine is currently undergoing a review of its structure and efficacy. (See The Great Beyond ) CIRM itself is obligated to help stem cells become commercial therapies. It is offering a loan program for biotechs. Biotechs are also eligible to apply for grants which carry an obligation to pay some royalties to the state for commercialized products. At the same time, CIRM must make sure that these therapies will be accessible to Californians. On Monday, California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed bipartisan legislationguaranteeing access to Californians and making it easier for the agency to fund other sorts of research.

As possibilities for commercialization increase, so will the tumult.

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