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Scientists to learn to find bucks for biotech

Luis Fábregas
| Monday, March 17, 2003

Scientists gathering in Pittsburgh this week are calling for more federal research money to speed up the creation of man-made human tissues and organs.

One of the key issues at this year's Engineering Tissue Growth international conference is the need to quickly commercialize bioengineered products such as cartilage to treat arthritis and liver cell implants to stave off liver failure. But bringing those discoveries from the laboratories to the marketplace can't happen without more money.

"Anything that comes to market has to go through significant human testing and approval, which can mean hundreds of millions of dollars," said Lisa Kurek, managing partner of Biotechnology Business Consultants in Ann Arbor, Mich., and one of the keynote speakers at the conference. "A lot of scientists are clueless about how to build on the money they have and how to leverage federal resources."

Leaders of the Pittsburgh Tissue Engineering Initiative, the main sponsor of the four-day event, have rounded up biotech experts to teach some marketing savvy to nearly 600 scientists from around the world. A recurring theme will be how to make the best use of the little money there is to support their work.

"All of this hype and promise won't come without an investment," said Alan J. Russell, executive director of the Pittsburgh Tissue Engineering Initiative and director of the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine. "A lot of people are talking about cures for diabetes and Parkinson's disease and that's wonderful, but our responsibility is to deliver on that promise."

To that end, Russell said, scientists in Pittsburgh aren't just waiting for federal dollars. In fact, the engineering initiative is partnering with scientists from Germany and Japan to find research projects in which the three groups can collaborate.

Russell said Japanese scientists at the Kansai Tissue Engineering Initiative have special expertise in developmental biology and experts at the German Regenerative Medicine Institute have shown strength in the development of an artificial liver.

"I do hope that we can collaborate in some substantive research projects where we can combine our strengths," Russell said.

He said the Japanese government has invested about $2.4 billion, or $160 million a year, in tissue engineering, compared to about $100 million a year provided to scientists by the U.S. government. The Pittsburgh Tissue Engineering Initiative believes that number should be bumped up to about $800 million a year, with special attention to areas that are lacking support, such as basic and applied research and money for clinical trials.

The Engineering Tissue Growth Conference, now in its third year, runs through Thursday at the Westin Convention Center Hotel, Downtown.

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