Scientists at Embryonic Stem Cell Research Mtg. Admit Failures

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Jun 23, 2005   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Scientists at Embryonic Stem Cell Research Mtg. Admit Failures Email this article
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by Steven Ertelt Editor
June 23, 2005

Washington, DC ( — Hundreds of scientists who back embryonic stem cell research are meeting in California to discuss the current state of the controversial research are admitting they’ve not made much progress and losing millions in trying to perfect it.

"Many of the technologies we hyped to the general public haven’t worked yet,” Celgene President Alan Lewis said, according to an AP story.

James Thomson, the Wisconsin biologist who was the first to isolate embryonic stem cells also admits they have been oversold.

He told MSBNC that he understands the technology still has a long way to go and that embryonic stem cells are not being used in any human clinical trials yet.

"I’m very hopeful that there will be some transplantation applications for this technology, but they’re going to be very challenging," he told MSNBC. "And it’s been so hyped in the press that people expect it to come the day after tomorrow."

Thomson conceded that embryonic stem cell cures may not be available until "ten to twenty years from now."

Meanwhile, Lewis also pointed out that venture capitalists, the source of much of the funding of stem cell research companies, "are very cautious” about investing because of the limited success and lack of future prospects.

That’s true for William Haseltine, CEO of Human Genome Sciences, a leading advocate of embryonic stem cell research. He says results are decades away and his company is not spending money on the unproven embryonic 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.

As a result, leading embryonic stem cell research firms are losing money.

Geron, the California-based biotech firm has put over $100 million into embryonic stem cell research and, because it has little to show for the investment, lost $80 million last year.

Advanced Cell Technology, a Massachusetts company that was one of the first to claim to have cloned a human embryo, is running into significant financial troubles and, according to AP, is having problems finding enough eggs from women for research.

"There have been companies that have gone into stem cells, but nobody’s made any money," researcher Thomson admitted.