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Government Opposition Seen as Causing U.S. to Fall Behind in Stem Cell Research

Dec 3, 2002
By Alicia Ault
Reuters Health

With the Bush Administration's continued refusal to fully fund embryonic stem cell research, the U.S. is falling further behind in the effort to find a cure for many diseases, said one of the nation's leading scientists and entrepreneurs on Tuesday.

William Haseltine, CEO of Human Genome Sciences, and founder of the Society for Regenerative Medicine, told reporters at a conference on stem cell and other regenerative therapies that the Administration's policies are severely delaying the development of treatments for conditions like Parkinson's disease.

The prospects for additional government funding are "dim under the current political context," Haseltine said, adding that he believes that the issue of providing money for experiments that take cells from human embryos has been "inappropriately tied to abortion politics."

"It is a dismal situation," Haseltine said, adding that with government funds drying up, more researchers will go overseas where the climate is less hostile.

"We will see many of our best scientists leave our shores," he predicted. Stem cell research is the most exciting area of exploration for biologists, he said, asking, "Are we going to shut that out for a whole generation of scientists?"

Haseltine said withholding funds from American scientists "will not stop the progress" of stem cell research in other countries. He argued that the U.S., whose scientists have already invested so much time and energy in stem cell research, should be the global leader in the field.

Private investors have not stepped into the breach, Haseltine said. Venture capitalists like a quick return on their investment, and much of stem cell technology's promise is years away from the market, he said.

Conference chairman Ian Wilmut agreed that much of the still-needed early work has to be done in universities, with government funding. But, the technology is also not far from being bankable, added Wilmut, who led the team that created the world's first cloned animal, Dolly.

Large companies need visionaries to see stem cells' promise, and to put their money up, he said. "I think this technology needs a Steve Jobs," Wilmut said, referring to the iconoclastic founder of Apple Computer.

© 2002 Reuters Ltd