Stem cell leader moves to industry

Another sign today of stem cell research becoming more commercial: An announcement that Stephen Minger, one of the field’s leading academics, will join GE Healthcare next week as head of Research and Development for Cell Technologies.

Minger, an American, has been in charge of stem cell biology at Guy’s Hospital and King’s College London since moving to the UK in 1996.

As well as being one of the top researchers into human embryonic stem cells in Britain – his lab has derived several hESC lines including ones with genetic mutations for cystic fibrosis and Huntington’s disease – Minger has been a fearless public advocate of stem cell science.

The relatively science-friendly legislative and regulatory framework for embryo research that has emerged in the UK owes something to Minger’s communications skills. He is one of the most open and media-friendly scientists I have come across, in any field.

Stephen Minger

Stephen Minger

“Leading GE Healthcare’s Cell Technologies research and development will allow me to bring many years of academic research in the stem cell field to bear in a commercial environment,” he says. “This is an opportunity for me to play a leading role in the realization of the emerging potential of stem cell technology in drug discovery and therapy, and to help grow a strategic business for GE Healthcare.”

GE Healthcare, part of the giant US General Electric group, is one of the world’s largest and most broadly based medical technology companies. It made clear its corporate ambitions in stem cell research at the end of June when it announced an exclusive alliance with Geron, the leading US stem cell company. Minger will, among other duties, lead the GE side of the Geron partnership. He will be based in the UK.

GE’s role in the commercialisation of stem cells will be to provide a comprehensive range of cells and tools for research and development. It does not intend to produce its own treatments.

Incidentally Geron has commented further on last week’s decision by the US Food and Drug Administration to put “on hold” its application to carry out the world’s first clinical trial of a treatment based on embryonic stem cells.  The product would treat spinal cord injury.

The California-based company says the FDA suspension relates to “microscopic cysts” that appeared on some animals during preclinical testing. Reassuringly, the cysts were not cancerous and had no adverse effects on the animals, so it seems likely that the clinical trial will go ahead soon.

“It is appropriate for the FDA to be particularly cautious about the first clinical trial of embryonic stem cells,” Minger says.

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Clive Cookson, the FT's science editor, picks out the research that everyone should know about, in fields from astronomy to zoology. He also discusses key policy issues, from R&D funding to science education. He'll cover the weird and wonderful, as well as the serious side of science.