Ideas are the foundation of stem cell research, but funding makes those ideas a reality.
We talk a lot about governmental funding of stem cell research through CIRM and NIH. The funding from these agencies is essential and will undoubtedly lead to new treatments and cures, possibly for millions of patients. But there is another side to funding of stem cell research and that is investments in stem cell biotechs.
For-profit stem cell biotechs are conducting amazingly important stem cell research, witnessed by the early clinical trials underway for Advanced Cell Technology (ACT) and Geron for blindness and spinal cord injury, respectively. Although Geron just recently received $25 million in funding from CIRM, much of the capital behind the efforts of Geron and also the work of ACT comes from investors.
Why invest in a biotech company?
Of course, the reason is to make money, based on the belief that these companies will succeed and become money-makers or be bought out. How likely is that to happen? The answer depends of course on who you ask and what company you are talking about.
I don’t do a lot of investing myself generally and note that I do not personally have any investment in stem cell-related biotech companies. I made this decision so far because it gives me the freedom to say what I think about stem cell biotechs without any conflict of interest. However, if I ever do invest in them I’ll be sure to let you know. I’m not sure I have the stomach for the roller coaster rides that these stocks not too infrequently take their investors. Stem cell research is high risk and potentially high reward.
A side benefit to stem cell investment is the sense that the money you are investing could allow the company to achieve the goal of producing safe and effective treatments for patients who are in serious need. In other words, it is a very ethical investment, whereas say trying to make money from an oil company that pollutes the world or a company that has shipped all of its American jobs overseas to exploit cheap labor, may be quite the opposite: unethical. How you invest your money says something about who you are.
I don’t know how many investors think about these things along with the goal of trying to make money, but I know that some do.
In Europe, a serious threat to stem cell progress to the clinic has emerged with a threat from the European Court to prohibit patents involving embryonic stem cells. Such a ban would strongly discourage stem cell research and investment by biotechs into stem cell research. Fortunately no such ban seems likely in the U.S., but we need translational stem cell research throughout the world including in Europe. While embryonic stem cells themselves should be open to anyone using them for research, specific applications of using embryonic stem cells (into which biotechs invest millions of dollars) should be patentable.
Some philanthropists “invest” their wealth in supporting stem cell research as well and there have been some enormous gifts just here in California in the last couple years. I think those gifts are going to have a huge impact. If you would like to make a difference with a gift to UC Davis stem cell research, please email me for details or go to this UC Davis website to learn more.
Even a small gift can make a tremendous impact. Let’s keep up the good fight to treat and cure diseases that doctors right now really have no weapons to use to help millions of patients.