In a sign of how much the controversy over human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) has waned, the most prominent lobbying group for hESC research announced today that it is folding after 12 years. The Coalition for the Advancement of Medical Research (CAMR) will transfer its work to another group that focuses on moving hESC research into the clinic.
"We are in an era where the primary issues are not federal funding for human embryonic stem cell research," wrote CAMR President Amy Comstock Rick, who is also CEO of the Parkinson's Action Network, in an e-mail to the more than 100 patient advocacy, scientific, and other groups that belong to CAMR. "Given the progress we are seeing in the field of regenerative medicine, the policy issues we now see go beyond the historical focus of CAMR."
CAMR was founded around when President George W. Bush issued an executive order on 9 August 2001 limiting federal funding for hESC studies to existing cell lines. The coalition pushed for a bill, passed by Congress in 2005 and 2007, that would have removed those limits; Bush vetoed the bill both times. In 2009, the landscape changed when President Barack Obama issued an executive order instructing the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to lift the Bush-era constraints. The number of NIH-approved stem cell lines has since grown from 21 to more than 200, CAMR notes.
In the last couple of years, CAMR wrote amicus briefs supporting NIH's battle against a lawsuit seeking to shut down federally funded hESC research. In January, the U.S. Supreme Court threw out the suit.
Rick notes that little is now happening in Congress on the stem cell front. Even the announcement last week that researchers have achieved the long-sought goal of making personalized hESCs using cloning techniques, which opens the door to cloning a human, hasn't sparked much activity. "It's work to keep a coalition together," she says, and "the field has evolved so that many of the advocacy issues are now Food and Drug Administration issues or [insurance] reimbursement issues." As evidence, she points to recent clinical trials testing hESC-derived treatments for spinal cord injuries and eye diseases.
CAMR will now transfer its mission and resources to the Alliance for Regenerative Medicine, which includes many CAMR members but also has more representation from companies. If funding for hESC research should be threatened again, Rick adds, "ARM will pick up exactly where CAMR left off."