Strategies to boost regenerative medicine: Growing an extra layer of skin

Author: David Kent, 05/22/12

You might expect this article to be about creating skin grafts for burn victims or something of that ilk. Instead though, it concerns the complicated process of taking a scientific discovery in regenerative medicine and bringing that discovery through clinical trials or commercialization to help people. If you imagine the middle of an onion as the initial discovery, you can then imagine all of the associated complexities that exist (regulations, intellectual property, safety, etc.) as the concentric layers right out to the external skin. Arguably, each of these layers is an important component of the process – ethically, economically, socially, legally – but on Monday at the World Stem Cells and Regenerative Medicine Congress, another layer — of questionable importance — was introduced: a coalition of translation centres.

First, let me emphasize that I see great value in the recent increase in translation centres at universities for biomedical researchers. Several heads of translation centres have championed the role of such organizations as providers of the expertise and resources needed to navigate the regulatory and clinical trial landscape (see Paul Kryzyanowski’s recent article on Canada’s CCRM). As an example, instead of a single startup company hiring a regulatory specialist, multiple startup companies can use the same regulatory specialist(s) via the centre. This shared resource strategy can be applied to many different aspects of the translational process. Moreover, as one panelist noted, such centres allow the difficult decisions of which technologies to stop pursuing to be made in the context of multiple other options instead of the “we have to make this work” mentality that appears to plague some companies.

However, almost as quickly as these translation centres have cropped up across the world, it seems that there is a strong movement to bring them together under a new network. According to Frank-Roman Lauter of the Berlin CRT, the Regenerative Medicine Coalition will formally come into existence on Friday May 25 when member organizations and relevant state representatives (including Canada’s ambassador to Germany) will sign the charter. The idea seems to be to bring together leading translation centres in an effort to share expertise in specialized areas and move technologies through international hurdles a little more efficiently. Admittedly, it was a little difficult for me to understand the difference between this organization and the recently launched Alliance for Regenerative Medicine, with the two distinguishing features appearing to be the level of involvement of industrial partners and membership location (all US vs. international). We’ll see how it develops over the coming months.

Perhaps this is excellent foresight and something that translation centres would inevitably develop into, but something inside of me thinks that an annual conference of information sharing or strategic collaborations based on need would do much the same thing and would drain far fewer resources. Furthermore, it will add additional stakeholders to the already mixed bag of interests surrounding any given technology.

Amidst budget cuts across the board to Canada’s research councils to fund the science, I can’t help but ask whether this network of translation centres is really the best use of government dollars or rather another “bold new initiative” (ribbon included and sarcasm noted) to showcase a commitment to translational medicine. As a scientist in the field, I am thrilled that help will exist to move select technologies from academic labs into products or treatments, but is a formal network and its inevitable infrastructure requirements really necessary? The question in my mind is whether this new layer will actually provide fuel for regenerative medicine or simply act as an expensive and more complicated way to get at the bits you really want to harvest.

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David Kent

David Kent

Principal Investigator at University of Cambridge
Dr. David Kent is a Principal Investigator at the University of Cambridge in the Cambridge Stem Cell Institute (http://www.stemcells.cam.ac.uk/researchers/principal-investigators/dr-david-kent). His laboratory's research focuses on fate choice in single blood stem cells and how changes in their regulation lead to cancers. David is currently the Stem Cell Institute’s Public Engagement Champion and has a long history of public engagement and outreach including the creation of The Black Hole in 2009. He has been writing for Signals since 2010.
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