Steve Connor: City missing out on stem-cell jackpot

Science Notebook

Share
Related Topics

It is often said Britain is good at invention and basic research, but bad at developing scientific ideas to a stage where they make money and create jobs. This is especially true in genetics and molecular biology, areas littered with missed opportunities – largely because short-sighted City investors are trained in accountancy not science.

It was in the UK that Francis Crick and Jim Watson discovered the DNA double helix structure, a 1953 study that won them the Nobel Prize. The home of their discovery, in Cambridge, eventually became the Laboratory of Molecular Biology, which under the leadership of the late great Max Perutz was a byword for excellence. Perutz himself won a Nobel for work on the structure of haemoglobin. He is one of 13 on the laboratory's long list of Nobel laureates, including some of the greatest names in British science, such as Aaron Klug, Sydney Brenner and Fred Sanger. Cesar Milstein and George Kohler won the 1984 Nobel for their work on monoclonal antibodies, a breakthrough that led to medical developments worth hundreds of millions. Unfortunately, like so many other great British biological breakthroughs, the companies that saw the potential were sadly not based in the UK.

I therefore had a feeling of déjà vu this week when some of Britain's brightest stars in the new field of stem cell biology felt obliged to go public with concerns over a lack of interest from City investors. The real problem these scientists face is making that important leap from the laboratory to the first stage of a clinical trial – a costly business not covered by a university grants. For some reason City investors don't seem to get it with stem cells, unlike their counterparts in America who take the necessary gamble, and reap the richest rewards.

British can actually be best

Technology can be a baffling thing. I've just changed my internet service provider because my home broadband has failed to work, despite many long-distance conversations with robotically polite but ultimately unhelpful people in call centres in the Philippines and India. So I decided to change to BT and to my astonishment it worked first time with no problems – so far, at least. The company even seems to have engineers based in the UK, a definite plus as far as I'm concerned. Why should we support the export of British jobs abroad, which happened when Italian giant Tiscali took over the broadband customers of Pipex?

Heavy water, longer life

New Scientist reports this week that the elixir of youth has been found by a Russian scientist. It's deuterium oxide, otherwise known as heavy water – deuterium being a heavier isotope of hydrogen. Drink it, and you live longer, apparently. But this is no ordinary quack claim. It has plausible science on its side and is a testable hypothesis, the magazine claims.

React Now

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

C# Developer (HTML5, JavaScript, ASP.NET, Mathematics, Entity)

£30000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

C# Integration Developer (.NET, Tibco EMS, SQL 2008/2012, XML)

£60000 - £80000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Integration...

Biztalk - outstanding opportunity

£75000 - £85000 per annum + ex bens: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: Biztalk Te...

Trade Desk Specialist (FIX, Linux, Windows, Network Security)

£60000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Trade Desk Specialist (FIX, Linux, Windows...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

i Editor's Letter: The final instalment of our WW1 series

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
 

Simon Usborne: The more you watch pro cycling, the more you understand its social complexity

Simon Usborne
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice