Cambridge Academics Will Bypass European Stem Cells Ruling

13/01/2012 08:56 GMT | Updated 13/03/2012 09:12 GMT

The Vice-Chancellor of Cambridge University, Professor Sir Leszek Borysiewicz, has vowed to bypass a European Court of Justice ruling that bans patents on embryonic stem cells by turning to the United States or India instead.

There are 26 laboratories in Cambridge using stem cells; it has the largest aggregate of stem cell scientists in Europe. However, their future research, which is hoped will lead to vital medical discoveries, remains uncertain if they comply with the court ruling announced last October.

Sir Leszek, a former lecturer in medicine and Chief Executive of the UK's Medical Research Council, told a Cambridge Network gathering of hi-tech business leaders, that the ruling may be "politically incorrect", and that the government was "trying to play this down".

He said: "I believe embryonic stem cells have to be the way forward. We do have a problem in the European area, but I've been very clear, both to ministers and others about how Cambridge is going to tackle that. We will continue to do a lot of research here, we will engage with whatever development we can locally and further forward, but the university itself will look at ways of ensuring that patenting can actually occur, and, if necessary, be run through the US, and, if necessary, the Indian sub-continent."

He added: "There is no way we can actually block the development of potential therapeutics which will have a major impact."

Sir Leszek, who earlier in the week had been speaking to David Cameron and his "prime ministerial team" about innovation, along with Intel and Hermann Hauser, feels passionately about the potential revolutionary treatments which embryonic stem cell research could provide for those suffering from blindness, spinal cord injury and stroke, as well as Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson's.

"There is a fundamental issue that Europe has got involved, and frankly, I don't think we should stand back and prevent major opportunities from actually reaching completion as quickly as possible."

When the European Court of Justice announced the ban on patents, David Willetts, the Science Minister, told The Times that the government remained committed to stem cell research, despite the court's decision:

"It does look disappointing because we want to see the effective development of cell therapies that could alleviate and tackle serious medical conditions. It could inhibit this research and development.

"If Europe wants to remain as productive and creative in scientific discovery as it historically has been, it can't regulate innovation out of existence."

Back in Cambridge, Sir Leszek was in no doubt about the major contribution this fine academic city could provide:

"Here we have the brains and the means and the ideas to change to world; frankly, we should have the ambition too. Cambridge is a unique environment with the best ideas and the best implementation. If the answers to pressing questions facing humanity don't come from here, where will they come from?"