Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Pharmaceutical Industry vs. the Religious Right on Stem Cell Research

While the Republican generally do a good job of marinating party unity despite different goals of their major factions, stem cell research might lead to a break down in this coalition. The goals of big business, in this case the pharmaceutical companies, is now clashing with those of the religious right. The Wall Street Journal today looks at the desire of pharmaceutical companies to investigate the use of stem cells for new products, but feels constrained in the current political atmosphere:
The federal action didn't place any constraints on privately funded research, but some scientists claim the White House policy has had a chilling effect on companies, in part because of corporate worries about consumer boycotts or shareholder protests. To date, research using the cells has been pioneered by university laboratories and a few small biotechnology firms in the U.S. and abroad. . .With household names like GE and Johnson & Johnson taking up stem cells, supporters are likely to see a major endorsement of their position. But stem-cell critics may seize on the chance to carry their ethics fight to companies' doorsteps. . . Advocates see the trend moving toward acceptance of stem cells. "There is pent-up desire inside the companies," says George Daley, a prominent stem-cell scientist at Children's Hospital in Boston. Once the potential of the cells is clearly demonstrated, he says, companies' qualms "will evaporate" and they will rush into the field.
The pharmaceutical industry has been a major contributor to the Republicans, who have paid them back with the prohibition against Medicare to negotiate pharmaceutical prices (as is done by state Medicaid programs) and with proposals to protect them from liability. It will be interesting to see what happens should the pharmaceutical companies begin to lobby the Republicans to change their stance on stem cell research. In this case lobbying from the pharmaceutical industry could turn out to be beneficial.


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