Despite great hopes for stem cell therapy, major structural and cultural changes within the NHS are needed if it is to succeed in the UK. Currently the chances of getting effective treatments into routine use in the short-term are small and the industry is at serious risk of ‘market failure’.
These are the findings of two major studies into the commercialisation and adoption of stem cell therapy carried out by researchers at The University of Nottingham.
Dr Paul Martin, from the Institute of Science and Society said: “While the government has identified regenerative medicine as a national priority and the US has lifted its ban on stem cell therapy, urgent public policy action is needed if it is to become a reality. Although cell therapy is now established as an important branch of medicine, innovative firms struggle to make money, putting the UK industry in a very vulnerable position in the short term. Unless the situation changes the industry will contract and the progress needed to develop important cell therapies will be adversely affected.”
The research, funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) identified a number of important barriers to knowledge translation. It found that closer collaboration with clinicians was needed along with better funding for clinical studies, greater regulatory certainty and clearer reimbursement policies. There is also a need to develop enabling technologies to lower manufacturing costs.
Commercial activity in cell therapy has grown very significantly since 2002. The industry now involves nearly 200 companies developing primary and secondary cell therapies, plus another 180 banking cord blood. In total the global cell therapy industry currently has sales of over $1 billion a year and a steady number of products are now reaching late stage clinical trials. However, the sector suffers from a high level of company turn over. As a consequence, the industry is dominated by small, young companies lacking the resources to bring products easily and successfully to market and those that do struggle to make sales.
Dr Martin, whose expertise lies in the sociology of emerging medical technologies, said: “There are major structural barriers within the NHS that make it difficult to translate new scientific knowledge of stem cells into improved patient care. For a clinician to use a cell therapy routinely it needs to meet a number of strict criteria. They are also expensive and many are yet to have proven clinical outcomes.”
The reports are the result of a two-year study examining the UK regenerative medicine sector. They have been published ahead of the second National Stem Cell Network’s Annual Scientific Conference which is being held at Oxford University on Monday 6 April 2009 to Wednesday 8 April 2009. The conference attended by leading experts in the field is a celebration of the latest in UK stem cell science.
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Notes to editors
: The University of Nottingham is ranked in the UK's Top 10 and the World's Top 100 universities by the Shanghai Jiao Tong (SJTU) and Times Higher (THE) World University Rankings.
More than 90 per cent of research at The University of Nottingham is of international quality, according to RAE 2008, with almost 60 per cent of all research defined as ‘world-leading’ or ‘internationally excellent’. Research Fortnight analysis of RAE 2008 ranks the University 7th in the UK by research power. In 27 subject areas, the University features in the UK Top Ten, with 14 of those in the Top Five.
The University provides innovative and top quality teaching, undertakes world-changing research, and attracts talented staff and students from 150 nations. Described by The Times as Britain's "only truly global university", it has invested continuously in award-winning campuses in the United Kingdom, China and Malaysia. Twice since 2003 its research and teaching academics have won Nobel Prizes. The University has won the Queen's Award for Enterprise in both 2006 (International Trade) and 2007 (Innovation — School of Pharmacy), and was named ‘Entrepreneurial University of the Year’ at the Times Higher Education Awards 2008.
Nottingham was designated as a Science City in 2005 in recognition of its rich scientific heritage, industrial base and role as a leading research centre. Nottingham has since embarked on a wide range of business, property, knowledge transfer and educational initiatives (www.science-city.co.uk) in order to build on its growing reputation as an international centre of scientific excellence. The University of Nottingham is a partner in Nottingham: the Science City.