31 July 2010


"Government failure to play a central planning and coordinating role is the main reason why stem cell therapies have not lead to curing disease and this failure will cost you money now and more in the future."

Today I am starting with a bold statement. Just making a statement like this with no explanation will get you a reputation for being a crackpot. But sit with someone at their kitchen table and talk about the reasons and you'll get a lot of understanding and maybe even some anger. So today, pull up a chair, put out the cups and pour the coffee. Let's talk about the failure to cure disease.

Let's start with a little clarification. The point of today's post is not to criticize stem cell research companies for putting profits ahead of a cure. This would be like criticizing cats for eating mice. But I will be clear; profits are interfering in the search for a cure. Let's face it, the company that cures spinal cord injury or diabetes will make tremendous profits, therefore there is no motivation for them to share research. This causes duplication with three, four, or four hundred companies doing the same research because there is no benefit for private companies to coordinate or share their work. This is a waste of not only money but a waste of human resources and human potential.

I'll give a clear example so that people don't just think I'm making this up. Associated Press reported on 11 June 2010 that, "In an unusual step, a dozen competing drug companies have agreed to share data on thousands of Alzheimer's patients in hopes that the extra information will spark new ideas for treatments...it's the kind of collaboration that does represent a major shift in thinking about how to accelerate drug development…It is led by the Critical Path Institute, a nonprofit partnership with the FDA that aims to speed discovery of new drugs."

Now let's look at three most important words in this article. You'll find them bolded in the story.

Unusual: This is not something that regularly happens with medical research companies, thus the use of the adjective 'unusual'. It is not the norm in stem cell research either. So why did this happen? It happened because past efforts by private companies have failed. That's not me saying that these companies have failed, it's the Associated Press.

Accelerate: To speed up. To quicken. This happens because when you have collaboration you share data and don't spend money (in most cases tax dollars) repeating the same failed experiments. Again, this is not me saying that collaboration will accelerate research, it's the US Food and Drug Administration.

Nonprofit: No profits. Of course it has to be nonprofit. When profits are in the way no one will cooperate. That's not because profits are inherently bad, but they do not lead to cooperation. The kind of cooperation that private companies are now forced into after years of failure due to non-cooperation.

Other than being a waste of human resources, it would be OK if it were only their own money they were using to fund the research, but it's NOT. Governments all over the world are using your money to fund private ventures whose goal is to make profits while trying to develop stem cell therapies, not very free enterprise sounding to me.

Let's look at the the three billion dollar California Stem Cell fund example. Now before I start getting comments telling me that this fund flies in the face of my logic that government is not playing a big enough roll, let me make three points. Good things are coming out of this fund AND it is a bureaucratic nightmare AND an inefficient use of tax dollars because it's not enough money so it is actually a waste of money (trying buying a one dollar bottle of pop for 25 cents and you'll see what I'm talking about. The clerk will take your quarter if you insist but he won't give you the pop).

Now let me tell you why it's not enough. It's not enough because it's ONLY three billion dollars and even after six years the fund has only put out one billion dollars in funding. Yes, ONLY one billion (the remaining two billion is set to take seven more years to dole out). 

So you can see how small one billion dollars is, I'll give you a very interesting fact.

Pressure sores. People with spinal cord injuries get them and they can be not only uncomfortable but dangerous. The cost of treating just this one simple secondary problem related to spinal cord injury is 1.2 billion dollars per year in the US alone. So that's how small one billion dollars in stem cell funding is.

Remember, spinal cord injury is just one potential health issue that could be cured using stem cell therapies, there are about seventy other conditions. Add up the costs of treating these diseases and you'll see that a CURE is much, much cheaper than care. The failure to properly fund stem cell research is not free, it's costing you money already and will continue to cost you money in the future.

Also, the bureaucracy needed to control the funding is expensive, the California fund alone will spend 1.25 million dollars (not including staff costs) in creating a computer program to monitor and track the funding requests (taking money away from actual stem cell research, and it is time consuming. Basically you have a bunch of public and private (again, your money going to fund private profits) research facilities and they make requests. These requests need to be checked and rechecked. This is one main reason why it will take thirteen years to spend three billion dollars in grants that are desperately needed right now.

And California is not the only place doing it. Maryland, New Jersey, and New York, plus the US federal government all have their own funds with their own bureaucracy to administer the fund. Then repeat this to include the top five or six stem cell research countries and you have MASSIVE WASTE! This is money that is being used solely to administer stem cell research money. Money that will never create a new eye, or cure multiple sclerosis.

We need to both applaud California and other American states for their gumption in funding stem cells while the Bush White House refused funds, and, for the good of everyone, we must criticize the inefficient and wasteful way it's being done.

But I can criticize all I want, and if I don't start putting forward some alternatives I'll get tagged as a real crackpot. But today's blog is getting way too long, so I'll give you a break and invite myself around for coffee again during the next post about an efficient, alternative way to finance, administer, and plan stem cell research.

PS. Just a fun little exercise. I found the Alzheimer's information by using a news feed, but I get loads of articles everyday that I go through. Since I wanted to use the information for today's post and couldn't remember the name of the article, I did a simple search to try to find it again. Try it out.
1. Google: "alzheimer's companies share research" - you'll find the story I linked to and a bunch of others.
2. Google: "stem cell companies share research". I was hoping to find similar stories to the Alzheimer's story with companies sharing their data. At first I didn't understand the search results as I got a bunch of financial news related to stem cells. See if you know why? It gives a new meaning to "share and share alike".

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