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Out with the old, in with many new features to ddn
It's difficult to believe we're about to put our final issue of 2011 to press, but as we don our gay apparel, pour some celebratory eggnog and give this edition a final polish, we have a rare few moments to pause and reflect on another editorial year gone by.
This year, we produced more editorial content than ever before, in all of the news vehicles that have become familiar to you—our monthly newspaper and international PDF, 24-7 website, bi-monthly e-newsletter and blog—as well as some new additions to our news organization: the ddn Cancer Research Portal, which just launched in October, and several multi-issue special reports on specific trends in the pharma/biotech industries.
One of those reports, a three-part series on stem cell research, was a landmark and multi-faceted examination of the history and evolution of this growing area of science, as well as some of its major academic and commercial players. Last month, in our ongoing coverage of developments in the stem cell world, we singled out some of the sources that have made our content so intriguing: the plaintiffs behind the controversial Sherley v. Sebelius lawsuit. The plaintiffs and their attorneys have been especially gracious with their time and open to discussing their opposition to human embryonic stem cell research (hESC).
This month, I would like to grant equal space and time to someone on the opposite side of that issue: Alan Trounson, president of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM)—a state research entity that was birthed in 2004 when California voters overwhelmingly passed a statewide ballot issue, Proposition 71, and took a firm stand on the furtherance of stem cell research—involving hESC lines as well as other cell products. I interviewed Trounson this month for a story on the CIRM's recently announced partnership with the U.S. National Institutes of Health (see "Two heads are better than one"), and we had a pleasant, leisurely conversation about the CIRM's short but impressive evolution and the entity's plans for bringing various cell therapies to market.
Trounson was also vocal about discussing some of the challenges that stem cell research is facing on a federal level, and how they are impacting the rate at which researchers are able to make breakthroughs. Although California stem cell researchers arguably enjoy the most liberal research environment, "Every time a law gets introduced that would interfere with scientists working together or making significant contributions, it is a concern to me," Trounson says.
"Most Americans would like to see these treatments evolve so they can be used across the country," he argues.
In particular, "Dickey-Wicker is a handicap and is not benefiting research at all. But it's difficult to change. Sometimes you have to work with these major stones in the road, and just drive around them," Trounson says.
He was also critical of Big Pharma's limited involvement in this area: "We're looking at a pharmaceutical industry with a decreasingly effective pipeline. Cell therapy is there, but its potential is still growing. The opportunity to link these two things together is possible, but the Big Pharma model doesn't suit cell therapies," he contends. "It's like oil and water—they don't mix together. Maybe in time, they will realize the potential of these cell therapies—especially if they are not producing new drugs."
Specifically, regenerative medicine, he notes, is "an area the regulatory agencies are focusing on closely. I think by the time our studies get to clinical trials, we will have a good handle on that. We're developing a lot of imaging technologies to find out where cells go, whether they change or become a part of a patient's cell population, etc. On these issues, we are working intensively with the FDA, and they are helping us. It's a very good process, and things are improving dramatically in our understanding of what our needs are. It's all a matter of deciding when you get into clinical trials that they are safe. Are they really safer and more effective than what is currently available to patients? We have to have something better than what is currently induced by physicians."
As we head into our eighth year of publishing, we expect stem cell research and oncology to remain hot topics throughout our 2012 coverage. We invite you to come along for the journey. Happy holidays to you, our faithful readers, and we'll see you next year.