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UK Budget Cuts Threaten Stem Cell Research

Britain risks losing its position in stem cell research because there is too little money to turn breakthroughs into treatments, scientists have warned.

A shortfall in funding for regenerative medicine and poor support coupled with impending cuts in the government’s spending review next month have led to fears of job losses and a brain drain away from Britain.

Sir Richard Sykes, chairman of the UK stem cell foundation, blamed the previous government for failing to honor its commitment to help researchers turn their discoveries into medical therapies and urged coalition ministers to revive support for the field. “Despite the UK leading the world in stem cell research, there is a serious risk of failing to translate that science into patient therapies due to the funding gap,” Sir Richard said. “If that happens we will see British scientists move away and the commercial benefits we could have exploited will be exploited by other people.”

  • Sir Richard is one of Britain’s most experienced scientists. He recently stepped down as rector of Imperial College and was formerly chairman of the pharmaceuticals company GlaxoSmithKline. The UK stem cell foundation was set up in 2005 to speed the progress of promising stem cell therapies through clinical trials.

Britain established itself as a world leader in stem-cell science in the past decade when the Bush administration imposed severe restrictions on the use of embryonic stem cells by US researchers.

  • Other countries, such as Germany and Italy, also blocked the research;
  • In the same period Britain introduced strict but permissive laws allowing scientists to work with embryonic stem cells, a move that drew leading researchers to set up labs here.

The prospect of cuts to medical science has led some leading stem cell researchers to consider their future in Britain. Professor Pete Coffey, director of the London Project to Cure Blindness at University College London, said yesterday that he would have to reduce job numbers at his department if cuts reach 10%.