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UK group wants £100 million for stem cell research

9 February 2005
By BioNews
Appeared in BioNews 295

Leading names from science, industry and government in the UK have publicly called for the establishment of a charitable foundation to promote and fund stem cell research in the country. They made their public call on 8 February, at a meeting for the UK's stem cell research community at Newcastle's Centre For Life. The group believe that it will be necessary to create a fund of £100 million in order to maintain the UK as one of the world leaders in this promising field of medical science.

The inaugural meeting of the 'Stem Cell Foundation' group was held in London in January. Members of the group include Professor Sir Chris Evans, a scientist and businessman; Professor Lord Robert Winston, fertility specialist; businessman Sir Richard Branson; Sir Ian Gibson, chair of the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee; Professor Steve Jones, geneticist; Sir Richard Sykes, former chair of GlaxoSmithKline; and Lord May, former UK Chief Scientist and president of the Royal Society.

The group is concerned that early advances in stem cell research made in the UK will be exploited and overtaken abroad, unless money is pumped into the research in the UK. Two weeks ago, it was reported in the Guardian newspaper that some UK scientists are worried that government funding for stem cell research could 'dry up'. In 2002, the government pledged £40 million over three years for stem cell research. In January, following reports that China and other Eastern countries are set to become 'world leaders' in stem cell research, Lord Sainsbury, minister for science at the DTI, said that 'Britain should be motivated to remain the leader in stem cell research by the progress in the East', adding: 'providing funding for research remains at the top of our priorities'. Stem cell researcher Stephen Minger, from University College, London, said that the UK did not need to match the $3 billion in grants pledged by voters in California, but just needs to ensure a further commitment from the government.

Now, the Foundation members, who want to ensure that the UK remains 'internationally competitive', are looking to find funding for the research in the UK to enable a much faster transition from basic research to clinical trials. It has already been reported that Chinese researchers are poised to begin the country's first clinical trials in humans of a therapy that uses stem cells. 'We are now sliding backwards somewhat, as other countries accelerate ahead', said Chris Evans, in an interview for BBC News. A movement from the laboratory to the clinic is the 'delivery everyone wants', he said, adding 'to get there it's a few more years and a lot of money and I think that there's a gap - I know that there's a gap - and I think it's quite substantial and I want to do something about it'. The group is reported to now be in discussions with government about how to further its ideas.

SOURCES & REFERENCES
Call for £100m UK stem cell fund
BBC News Online |  8 February 2005
Green light for China's first stem cell therapy test
SciDev.net |  4 February 2005
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