Saturday, September 09, 2006

Future plans of ACT in stem cell research

ACT has just raised $13 million, and plans to do work in the use of stem cells to treat eye disease, heart and vascular disease and regenerate skin damaged by wounds, burns and surgical procedures.

In the past, ACT had a facility in Worcester, Massachusetts, but with the appearance of Proposition 71 in California, ACT moved its headquarters to Alameda, CA. The Boston Biz Journal observed:

ACT --an embryonic stem cell research company with a facility in Worcester -- launched its research facility in California and moved its headquarters there earlier this year, in part to tap into more than $3 billion in embryonic stem cell research funding voters approved over the next decade. The company has pledged to continue operating its Worcester research facility and employs a few dozen people there.

The realization of the recent funding came in part through ACT's highly publicized "stem cells without embryo destruction" campaign of late August 2006, probably more from press releases than from an electronically-published paper in the journal Nature. The underlying scientific work was done in the Worcester facility, according to a report in the Eagle-Tribune ["The research that led to Wednesday's announcement was performed at Advanced Cell Technology's Worcester laboratories."]

The Eagle-Tribune also noted: Caldwell hopes the company's ability to now generate human embryonic stem cells without destroying embryos will lure deep-pocketed corporate partners who can help get experimental drugs to market, an expensive proposition.


Investor interest in the sector waned soon after President Bush severely limited federal funding of stem cell research in August 2001, and Advanced Cell has lurched from one cash crunch to the next. In 2003, ImClone Systems Inc. wrote off a $1 million loan to the company as a bad investment and Advanced Cell sold its promising animal cloning business to stay afloat.

The company, which was racing to develop cloned human embryos as a stem cell source, teetered on the brink of insolvency after South Korean scientist Hwang Woo-suk stunned the scientific world in 2004 with his claim to be the first to clone human embryos. Hwang has since been exposed as a fraud and his work a sham, which helped breathe a new round of venture capital investment into the company.

Apart from the "hoped for" presence of research money in California, there have been some issues in Massachusetts. There is now some uncertainty in a recently-passed Mass. law:

The alternative Kevin Eggan has in mind is recruiting genetically suitable donors whose sperm and eggs could be combined in vitro to create embryos for research. This is a practice which is permitted in the UK, but banned in France, Australia and Canada. And it was, says the health council, also banned under the Massachusetts law which forbade creating embryos to be donated for research. This doesn't apply to us, say the scientists. We don't want to create embryos to be donated, but to be used.


Gov. Romney, however, is sticking to his guns. "I believe it crosses a very bright moral line to take sperm and egg in the laboratory and start creating human life," he said. "It is Orwellian in its scope".

Look here.


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