Wednesday, October 03, 2007


One story that got far less media attention than it deserved today was the launch of Stem Cells for Safer Medicines (SC4SM), a joint venture between some of the UK's leading national medical research groups and three of Europe's biggest pharmaceutical companies (GSK, Roche and AstraZeneca). The group is going to carry out research that could lead to drugs being developed in a completely different way: one that would require a lot less animal testing, and would lower the risk of people suffering liver failure and other horrible side-effects when participating as volunteers in clinical trials.

A development backed by the pharmaceutical industry that could potentially please the animal rights extremists AND be good for broke students paying their way through uni with medical research payoffs? Whatever next?! Of course it's all theoretical at this point - the research might not work, it might all come to nothing. But the fact is that the wheels have been set in motion at long last. And to be honest, Britain is on of the few places in the world that it could happen. Over in the States, Bush vetoed a bill that would see federal funding given to stem-cell research programmes back in February, which is at least the second time his administration has refused to back similar legislation.

Of course I'm not blind to the possibility of ethical mismanagement or abuse in such research, but the whole "if we do this now, who knows what we'll be doing in 10 years' time?" argument is really pretty tired at this point, and if a proper set of guidelines is established and maintained, then surely the good that will emerge from stem-cell research could revolutionise drug development and contribute to new treatments that are safe and effective reaching the market faster? This is really a world first, and I think Britain should be proud of having the courage and the vision to make it happen.


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