Wednesday, November 22, 2006

CT Hands Out First Stem Cell Grants Today

From the Courant:

Connecticut handed out $20 million to scientists working on groundbreaking research into the use of embryonic stem cells Tuesday, becoming among the first states in the nation to step into a role the federal government has refused to take on.

Exploring how to regenerate muscle or bone destroyed during warfare and understanding how brain cells go bad were among the 21 projects selected by the state's stem cell research advisory committee, which was charged with dispersing the first installment of the state's 10-year, $100 million commitment to stem cell research.

Faced with federal restrictions on the use of embryonic stem cells, Connecticut, California, New Jersey, Maryland and Illinois have all responded by agreeing to fund stem cell research on their own. Tuesday's grants were among the largest awards to be dispensed by a state so far.

I had no idea that Connecticut's stem cell funding was so ambitious.

Hathaway, William. "Money For Stem Cells". Hartford Courant. 11/22/06


Matt said...

Nice work... this is a good way to help make the state a modern economy -- by attracting the kinds of research that's harder to do in most of the country.

Shadow said...

This is wonderful news.

Stem cells are going to be the next level in medical research in the same way the Internet was the next level in communication.


Whether it comes to online communication, stem cells, or string theory, universality has proven itself the best approach for us to pursue in the modern era; its inherant capacity for grand unification, which Einstein saw nearly a century ago, yields the most potential for vast breakthroughs in understanding and our quality of life, and the most hope for humankind.

Anonymous said...

The federal government will soon be funding stem cell research.

Anonymous said...

Matt -

You are correct. Yet in the pit of my stomach I know that in the next breathe you would critize Rell for something irrellevant if you have the chance, wouldn't you? But alas, at least you are giving credit in this instance.

GMR said...

I guess my question is, why is a state government doing this?

There are a ton of venture capital companies in this country, and there are large pharmaceutical companies, with big research labs. Pfizer, for instance, does a significant amount of research right here in Connecticut.

Aren't these companies better suited to make determinations about what stem cell projects to fund? These companies are constantly evaluating risks and rewards of doing various research, and distribute their dollars accordingly. I just don't think that the State of Connecticut is going to be better suited to determine which stem cell projects are worthy and which aren't than the pharmaceutical companies.

I know that this whole thing was sort of a slap in the face of the administration, but really, on the financial merits, is this a good use of $20 million in state funds? If one of these researchers that gets funding from Connecticut does come up with a cure for something, will the state of Connecticut get that money? Or will the pharmaceutical companies essentially get to sell the cure and make a profit, but not have to do any of the research?

I'm always rather skeptical of government funded research. Companies can do research and evaluate the risks with their own money. The only exception to this rule is if the research is so high level in nature that it cannot be patented. Stem cell research may fall into this category, I don't know. But I'm awfully skeptical of this expenditure...

Anonymous said...


Almost every breakthrough in Pharmacology has had it's basic research done by the Federal government.

If every state in the Union spent 20 million this year on Stemcell Research the amount would be 1 billion dollars.

For a little perspective that 1 billion is what 4 days in Iraq is costing us.

Matt said...

I guess my question is, why is a state government doing this?

Venture capital doesn't care where the money is spent: Connecticut wants high-end research in stem cells to be done inside the state, paying Connecticut workers, renting Connecticut office space, and setting up long-term operations.

If you're skeptical about the benefits of incentives like this to businesses, you'd probably be within reason -- many pull up stakes when the incentives disappear. But my sense is that the businesses that draw on these kinds of grants mostly don't exist yet, and once knowledge workers like biochemical engineers set up shop, they're reluctant to move and hard to replace. We'll see at the end of the decade, I suppose!

Matt said...

Oh yeah, and two other bits:

on the financial merits, is this a good use of $20 million in state funds?

I guess we'll be able to ask Diana Urban :)

... and not every application of stem cell research goes into pharmaceuticals, though I suppose there's an aspect of attempting to cement the big pharma companies here as well.

Anonymous said...

Rell deserves some credit for this initiative. You can argue that the private sector does anything better than the public sector. At least I do every chance I get. But this research is very promising and worth the risk. I also think a little support is better than a lot. Helps avoid the chance that too many dollars are chasing too few worthy projects. I'd rather see 50 state government initiatives rather than one big Federal one.

Anonymous said...

I'd rather see the $20 million go to basic research with stem cells than fund the eight DOT guys who stand around watching while two guys actually work.

Anonymous said...

GMR is absolutley right and the earlier post on Connecticut Innovations (a government venture capital operation) is relevant as well. And the statement at 11:54 that almost evey breakthrough in pharmacology has come through the government is sheer nonsense. As for Matt, if it goes to commercial apps it absolutley will be by a pharma co. This CT stem cell iniative is helter skelter research and time will show that if anybody ever bothers to track the work.

Anonymous said...

Please show me one class of pharmacueticals where the Basic research wasn't funded by the Federal Goverment in the lat 50 yrs.

You Can't.

justinh said...

GMR and Anonymous,

One reason it's important for the government to fund pharmaceutical reseasrch has to do with profits. Often, a company will do R&D on an experimental treatment, but won't bring it to market because, for example, its efficacy may be restricted to too small a population for further research to ultimately prove profitable.

Anonymous said...

"This is wonderful news."

Waste of tax dollars that should be left to the private sector.

Shadow said...

The private sector had its chance with stem cell research for years, and the results have not been satisfactory.

You can't tell someone with a terminal disease that they should wait for the free market to save them. Stem cell research is the last place for trickle-drown economics.

GMR said...

The private sector had its chance with stem cell research for years, and the results have not been satisfactory.

How is this a valid reason for the government to take over? There's a lot of things private industry hasn't invented yet. Atomic-level transporters, replicators, hover boards, and flying Deloreans. Yet I certainly hope you don't advocate the government start spenidng millions on research into these items.

The question I pose to you is how is the state government of Connecticut able to choose stem cell projects that are worthy from those that aren't? How come it can do these better than private industry.

To those of you who say tht the federal government had a role in most major pharmaceuticals, do you think that without government involvement, no new pharmaceuticals would have been developed? Or are the pharma companies letting the feds do some of their research?

If stem cell research isn't patentable, then I could support government research whole heartedly. Although at that point, I'd wonder not just why our Feds weren't in the act, but why other countries weren't chipping in as well, since any research findings would also help their own citizens.

If embryonic stem cell research can lead to patentable results, then no, I don't think Connecticut has any business doing this research. If the end results are as great as people claim, venture capitalists would be all over this. VCs live for this type of opportunity.

Shadow said...

But the road towards curing a disease has a different risk analysis for venture capitalists than other investments. Part of it is what you brought up when you correctly asked how the state would know which stem cell projects to pick and choose; it's the field of experimental science, and you can't double check something still attempting to be proven for the first time. In otherwords, it is very difficult for anyone to use a tangible set of criteria to determine whether a unproven hypothesis has more potential than another one without testing them both; in fact, usually the only way to move forward is by testing those hypotheses, and then you're getting into the very research itself, not just the analysis of its potential.

And unlike many other businesses that venture capitalists invest in, there are no tangible indicators along the road to let you know whether your investment in stem cell research was wise or working; you wait and you wait, and at some point, there's a breakthrough, or there isn't. Investors don't like what they perceive as an insecure investment; they want tangible indicators to know whether their money is in the right place. And if they ARE going to take a huge risk, they would rather do it with something like experimental oil drilling, which yields higher profits and provides loads of information for investors regarding where else oil has been drilled; that doesn't exactly guarantee success, of course, but investors still prefer it to a reading a bunch of indecipherable medical mumbo jumbo that adds up to one big question mark until you throw money at it.

We may not be able to get a tangible financial risk assessment regarding stem cell research, and that is bound to stifle investments from the private sector. However, the theory underlying the potential of stem cell research is so seamless and incredibly promising that it's impossible to ignore; by existing as a mere theory, though, it is too intangible an indicator for private investors to jump on. But does that mean we ignore it and say too bad?

I do think we would be better off if the private sector invested this money, we agree there. But if they aren't investing the money because the indicators aren't as tangible as they'd like, either the government leads the way or people may be suffering and dying needlessly.

The market solves most of our problems. The market does not solve all our problems. If it did, we would not have any problems.

Our state government here is trying to lead the way for the federal government, who has been woefully behind (and who defended withholding funding based more on reactionary social conservatism than market freedoms). And you mention other governments should be chipping in, but the truth is that those countries, unlike the US, have been investing in stem cell research for some time. The country that needs to start chipping in is us, and I'm glad our state has taken the lead.

Anonymous said...

When was the last time any Venture capital firm invested 20 to 100 BILLION in basic reseach over a 15 to 20 yr period?

Obviously you haven't a clue what your talking about.