18 Jul Illinois stem cell funding could aid issue's visibility
Madison, Wis. – One of Wisconsin’s neighbors has reaffirmed its support for stem cell research – support that could bolster similar research in Wisconsin.
Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich last week announced that Illinois would devote $10 million in state funds to support stem cell research. The announcement makes Illinois the fourth state to offer public dollars for stem cell research after New Jersey, California and Connecticut.
The governor, bypassing the Illinois Legislature, signed an executive order establishing the Illinois Regenerative Medicine Institute, an organization which will be operational by the end of the year and which will distribute the money in grants to medical research facilities. Funding will be offered for adult, cord blood and embryonic stem cell research but denied for reproductive cloning efforts.
Blagojevich’s use of executive power was controversial, particularly among stem cell research opponents, according to reports out of Illinois.
But Jim Leonhart, executive vice president of the Wisconsin Biotechnology and Medical Device Association, said Illinois’ decision is unsurprising for the growing industry. He said the combination of the $3 billion stem cell initiative in California and continual investments in Wisconsin likely pushed the state’s decision.
“We knew there had been some discussion in the upper levels, and I think they thought they were falling behind on initiatives in key states,” Leonhart said.
While the funding is small compared to the hundreds of millions of dollars Wisconsin has made available through grants and initiatives, Leonhart said, the real value is that another state in the region values stem cell research. Illinois’ commitment helps strengthen the Midwest as a biotech stronghold, making it more attractive for investors and companies looking to relocate, he said.
Leonhart said he was hopeful Wisconsin could offer up more stem cell funds in a similar manner to Illinois, especially since polls from the 2004 election indicate voters in Wisconsin support that course of action.
Melanie Fonder, a spokesperson for Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle, said Wisconsin has long been at the front of stem cell research, citing Jamie Thomson’s work with human embryonic stem cells and the upcoming Wisconsin Institute for Discovery. She said Illinois is not a threat to the Wisconsin’s stem cell work and its support could be beneficial for the state.
“This isn’t a zero-sum game – it’s certainly something where many states are moving forward with that research,” Fonder said. “The important thing is that the research continues to thrive.”
Michael Rosen, CEO of Immune Cell Therapy and a founder of the Illinois Biotechnology Industry Organization, said Blagojevich’s continued support for stem cells is a good move for the state — especially since Illinois will be hosting the BIO 2006 convention next summer. By adding state funds Illinois is able to reaffirm its commitment to biotechnology and move back into the public eye.
“I think directionally it’s the right stuff,” Rosen said, adding that the grants will likely be directed toward the bigger universities in Illinois such as Northwestern and the University of Chicago, and university spin-off companies such as NewNeural.