Root to stem
August 2011
by Jeffrey Bouley  |  Email the author


In our first survey collaboration with Mizuho Securities USA Inc., the picture for biopharma research and development and for stem cells specifically is definitely a mixed bag—at least for the United States.
Perhaps it's just skittishness in a still-shaky economy, and thus the feeling that things are worse here in the States than they are elsewhere and won't get better, but it is interesting to see among the 99 respondents to the "Mizuho Drug Discovery R&D and Stem Cell Survey"—all U.S.-based and 80 percent of them either in the biopharmaceutical industry or academia—they seem modestly hopeful about stem cells in general, but are a little more grim on U.S. competitiveness and funding.  
Looking at 2011, nearly 40 percent of respondents saw funding as being on a downward trend compared to 2010, though a quarter of them believe funding is up. Predicting the 2012 vs. 2011 dynamic, things are a bit more even, with 36 percent saying funding will be up and 34 percent saying it will be down.  
However, the 12-month outlook for R&D funding in the stem cell realm has a decidedly more positive spin, with respondents expecting mid-single-digit growth. Moreover, 47 percent expected stem cell research to be among the areas that will see the largest funding increases, beat out only by cancer, which 52 percent predicted will see some of the biggest boosts. Coming in slightly behind stem cell research in terms of confidence that funding will increase were biomarker research, cited by 37 percent of respondents, and personalized medicine, cited by 36 percent. Around 20 percent of respondents saw one or more of the following research areas as being among the big gainers: diabetes, neurosciences, nanotechnology and vaccines.
Respondents were far less confident about areas like infectious disease, autoimmune disorders, genomics, disease prevention, immunology, proteomics, metabolic disease, women's health and synthetic biology. Scoring dead last, with fewer than 5 percent expected funding boosts in the next year, was the area of association studies.
Nearly half of respondents think the current political climate is conducive for stem cell research and just under a quarter have neutral feelings. More striking is that approximately 71 percent believe that the current climate is getting better for stem cell research—though not a single respondent "strongly agreed" with that view.
But while the climate may be improving, respondents aren't so sure the United States will be a major beneficiary in any stem cell windfalls. Respondents were split on the statement that U.S. stem cell research will lag the rest of the world due to political restrictions, as 35 percent somewhat agree with that and 41 percent somewhat disagree—though on average, the response score was a neutral 3.2 on a scale of 1 to 5.  
This isn't far off from opinions of U.S. competitiveness overall, as the survey shows that respondents tend to think that the Unites States is losing its R&D edge, with a slightly above neutral score of 3.5—1 being "strongly disagree" and 5 being "strongly agree." Also, respondents tended to believe that pharma is losing its competitive edge versus biotech (3.5), and focusing more on product development (3.4). Also, respondents modestly agree (3.4) that China will start to dominate R&D this decade. Views on Europe losing its competitive R&D edge were more neutral (3.0) as was the view on research being de-emphasized at respondents' organizations (2.9).  
So, in the end, regardless of whether the United States dominates, lags or hovers in the middle, when will stem cell therapeutics become the standard? Weighing responses overall, the general opinion seems to be between 12 and 13 years, with more than a quarter predicting it will happen within the next five to 10 years and just under 50 percent predicting within the next 10 to 20 years. Neurological care is expected to be the most important indication for stem cell therapy, though oncology, cardiovascular and allergy and immunology also fared well in respondents' predictions, trailed by metabolic disease, endocrinology and women's health. 
Editor's Note: If you are interested in obtaining a copy of this survey, please contact Peter Lawson at Mizuho Securities at

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