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350 million needed for stem cell research

Published on 08/12/05 at 12:05pm

At least £350 million extra funding is needed for UK stem cell research if it is to maintain its international standing, according to a government commissioned report.

The government accepted all the recommendations in the UK Stem Cell Initiative (UKSCI) report and will pump an extra £50 million into stem cell research for incurable diseases over the next two years.

Chair of the UKSCI Sir John Pattison said: "It is vital that we maintain and increase the level of public funding. The ultimate health and wealth gains the UK will enjoy are directly proportional to the additional investment we are proposing."

The UKSCI was established by the Chancellor Gordon Brown in his March 2005 Budget with the aim of developing a strategy for stem cell research in the UK over the next ten years.

Commenting on the report the Chancellor said: "Britain should be the world's number one centre for genetic and stem cell research building on our world leading regulatory regime in this area."

As part of efforts to achieve this a new public-private partnership will be set up to invest in the pre-commercial aspects of stem cell research and coordinate future research, he said.

There will also be support for the UK Stem Cell Bank, cell production facilities and clinical research in the NHS as part of plans to give the UK a lead in the field.

Global stem cell research is becoming increasingly competitive with the US, China, Singapore and South Korea among a number of countries making advances in the area.

The UKSCI report recommends strengthening the UK's infrastructure for developing stem cell therapy and extending its favourable regulatory climate to include clinical applications.

There were further proposals to increase coordination between government bodies, research councils and stem cell researchers and engage more with the public on the issue.

The report was welcomed by the BioIndustry Association, which also suggested expanding the existing infrastructure to speed up developments.

BIA Board member Dr Simon Best said: "The existing stem cell networks in the UK should be used as a base from which to coordinate further national research in order to convert stem cell technology into new medical treatments for patients as quickly as possible."

UKSCI wants to attract more researchers and investment from the private sector and position the UK as an international centre of excellence in stem cell and clinical research.

By doing so it hopes to encourage pharmaceutical companies to use the UK for their stem cell research activities as the technology matures.

Stem cell research has the potential to develop new treatments for conditions such as Parkinson's disease, diabetes and heart disease and could also lead to safer, more effective drugs.

UKSCI says that although some new stem cell therapies will be developed within the next decade, the area will take several decades of small incremental advances in science and medicine to come to fruition.

The use of embryonic stem cells taken from aborted foetuses remains a controversial area, particularly in the US where their use has been limited.

The UK already has a strong position in stem cell research, but researchers have been calling for some time for more investment in the area to maintain it and prevent a brain drain.

Professor Miodrag Stojkovic, a key researcher at Newcastle's Centre for Life, recently announced he would be leaving for a better-paid position in Spain.

The Centre was last year granted the UK's first licence to create stem cells from unfertilised human eggs for use in therapeutic cloning.

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