Funding needed to keep stem cell research in UK

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The UK risks losing its command of stem-cell research to the USA, a group of leading scientists said today.

Regulatory restrictions and a lack of funding were blamed for the reason why investment in UK stem-cell research has not been translated into NHS treatments.

The UK National Stem-Cell Network (UKNSCN) is hosting a conference tomorrow to discuss how to remove obstacles preventing more therapies going into trial.

Stem-cell researchers, patient and charity groups, the pharmaceutical industry and regulatory bodies will all be represented at the workshop being held in Canary Wharf, London.

Speaking ahead of the conference, Professor Pete Coffey, of the London Project to Cure Blindness, said the UK was in danger of not utilising research already completed.

He said: "I think the next stage of investment has to happen now.

"There was a big investment in 2003-04, and the view was that investment in future would be longer term.

"Actually, it needs to be put in now."

He added: "The UK is failing, in that the translation from basic to clinic is not one which is joined up that well."

He went on to say that he had considered the possibility of moving to America for more funding.

"I have kept it in the UK for as long as possible. Can I really keep this in the UK?

"Unless investment comes in from the UK, then the answer is no.

"This will go to the US. I am already under a lot of pressure to do that, and it would be totally perverse to have this project go to the US," he said.

Professor Chris Mason, a UKNSCN Steering Committee member, said: "The opportunity is here today to build a world-class regenerative medicine sector in Britain that will both deliver health and wealth.

"It's a win for patients, the NHS, society and UK plcs.

"The main challenges are a mixture of scientific, clinical, regulatory and, most of all, financial issues."

Prof Mason refused to put a figure on the amount of cash needed, but added: "We need urgent funding to underpin the fledgling UK regenerative medicine industry.

"The present credit crunch has been extremely serious to our sector."

He continued: "The UK, through its firm commitment of public money to stem-cell research, remains at the cutting edge of the science.

"Now is therefore the time to translate this valuable knowledge into real benefits for patients.

"This will require additional funding for translation and manufacture, plus strong commitment to these advanced therapies from the NHS."