Embryonic Stem Cell Researcher Seeks to Make Money From Studies

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   May 31, 2005   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Embryonic Stem Cell Researcher Seeks to Make Money From Studies

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by Steven Ertelt
LifeNews.com Editor
May 31, 2005

Madison, WI (LifeNews.com) — The researcher who gained international prominence for first isolating human embryonic stem cells is now looking to make a buck for his discovery.

Jamie Thomson and two scientists at the University of Wisconsin-Madison have formed a new company to test the effect of new drugs on embryonic heart stem cells.

Heart cells don’t survive long or reproduce outside the body, so scientists are forced to test experimental drugs on the heart in animals or on people. Heart stem cells are supposedly more rugged and able to withstand the testing.

Thomson, who first isolated the embryonic stem cells in 1998, told the Associated Press that his new company, Cellular Dynamics International, can be competitive even though it won’t be located in California, where residents approved spending $6 billion in taxpayer funds on human cloning and embryonic stem cell research.

However, Thomson has an uphill challenge because none of the several companies trying to make money from embryonic stem cells have succeeded. According to AP, Geron, a leader in the industry which owns many patent rights to commercial products developed with the stem cells, lost $80 million last year.

Part of the problem is that embryonic stem cells have yet to cure a single patient and they have yet to yield any treatments like adult stem cells have.

That’s why private investors have funneled most of their money behind adult stem cell research.

William Haseltine, CEO of Human Genome Sciences, is a leading advocate of embryonic stem cell research. But, he says results are decades away and his company is not spending money on the unproven cells.

“The routine utilization of human embryonic stem cells for medicine is 20 to 30 years hence," Haseltine admits.

"The timeline to commercialization is so long that I simply would not invest," Haseltine added. "You may notice that our company has not made such investments.”

UW-Madison professor Timothy Kamp told AP that he and Thomson have found a way to make embryonic stem cells turn into heart cells and they hope to sell the cells to biotech firms and pharmaceutical companies for testing.