President Lee Myung-bak on Monday said his government would invest nearly 100 billion won in stem cell research next year and establish a system compatible with international standards in an effort to facilitate clinical and licensing procedures.
“The government has decided to foster the stem cell industry as a new core growth engine following the footsteps of the IT industry,” Lee said in a biweekly radio and Internet address.
“The government is planning on investing approximately 100 billion won in stem-cell-related research next year.”
Lee pledged greater support for the Korea Food and Drug Administration and other relevant organizations “to ensure that they proactively adapt to the changes in the international environment,” and to establish a national stem cell bank for stable production, preservation and supply of stem cells for research purposes.
“Stem cell research is very rewarding and significant in that it can give hope to those who suffer from rare and intractable diseases,” Lee said.
“In addition, from a business perspective, it can be said to be a high-value-added industry.”
Korea had been a leader of stem cell research along with the United States until a celebrated cloning expert Hwang Woo-suk was found to have fabricated his research in 2005. Countries such as the U.S. and Japan have eased regulations and expanded investment in stem cell research so far.
The U.S. had restricted federal government support for stem cell research citing bioethical issues, but resumed support two years ago and allowed clinical research on human embryonic stem cells last year for the first time in the world.
Japan has become the first country to succeed in generating stem cells using somatic cells instead of embryonic cells. With Britain and China joining in, the competition to develop new technology is getting fiercer, Lee said.
Mentioning latest breakthroughs in Korea’s stem cell research, Lee said the government “will give strong support to promising research teams with the intention of nurturing them into top global leaders.”
Recently, a medicine for myocardial infarction developed by a local firm from stem cells was approved, making Korea the first country to commercialize a stem cell treatment.
Clinical trials for stem-cell therapies for 14 diseases, including retina disorder, have continued since last year. Clinical trials of medicines for acute myocardial infarction, spinal cord injuries and dementia have already been completed. Korea possesses core technologies for several adult stem cells.
“Korea is unparalleled in holding clinical trials for stem-cell treatments,” Lee said. “When it comes to the number of the patents involving stem cells, Korea ranks fourth following the U.S., Japan and the United Kingdom.”
Lee visited the Clinical Research Institute of Seoul National University Hospital last Friday, where he had discussions on how to carry out the new government plan with university researchers, business leaders and ministers of relevant government ministries as well as the KFDA.
By Kim So-hyun (email@example.com