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Last Updated: Monday, 7 March 2005, 11:46 GMT
Q&A: UK stem cell fund
Sir Chris Evans, BBC
Sir Chris believes it would be unethical to stall stem cell research
Professor Sir Chris Evans is calling for a charitable foundation to promote and fund stem cell research in Britain.

The venture capitalist and bioscientist explains to BBC News why he is backing the initiative.

Why do we need a stem cell foundation?

We need it to plug a gap. The government, the Wellcome Trust and the MRC (Medical Research Council) are brilliant at funding research, but we need to get into what we call "translational research" - the clinical development of some of the great breakthroughs in stem cell research.

In other words, we need to take potential stem cell medicines and regenerative medicines to the clinic, to patients.

That's what everybody wants, but it takes a lot of money and I want to do something about it.

Why are you so passionate about stem cells?

I just think it's a fantastic area. I have been around for a long time as a scientist, and as an entrepreneur, so I see a lot of projects. But I have got to be honest - stem cell science is the most exciting area of scientific research and development in the world right now.

This area can produce real cell therapy regenerative medicines, which can address tissue breakdown in the body and degenerative illnesses. We would be foolish to hang back and be cautious. It would even be unethical to hang back.

Isn't Britain already a big player in stem cell research?

A few years ago we were number one - we pioneered this entire field - but now we are sliding backwards as others accelerate ahead. Big breakthroughs are happening in China, Korea, Japan, Germany - and there is a wall of money surfacing in the US.

We really need to push our development. But to do that you need funds. We need access to multi-million-pound sums to run proper pre-clinical and clinical programmes.

Who is supporting the proposed foundation?

I designed the project with two others, and we are pulling together an initial board of trustees. We don't want an ordinary board. We want some real colour - people who are high profile and who understand what stem cells can do to save lives. We have spoken to Sir Richard Branson, Sir Richard Sykes, Lord May and Lord Robert Winston. These people are all thoroughly committed to the programme.

Where will the money come from?

We are hoping to get some government money. I hope the government will make a modest pot of money available to develop these products.

There are also some private donors - wealthy people who feel they can make a real difference by contributing. I myself and some of the other trustees have also thrown money into the pot.

What will happen if we don't set up a foundation like this?

If we don't have a foundation it will be business as usual in the UK - we will carry on doing excellent scientific research.

But, sadly, the rest of the world will move ahead with translational research very rapidly. You will see stem cell therapies being administered to patients - but it will be happening in other countries.

We will be left wondering what the hell we are doing in the UK. We probably underpinned the biology of these breakthroughs - but where is the benefit for British people?

You seem convinced there will be a revolution in medicine?

It's not a revolution in the sense that it will happen suddenly, but I think over the next decade revolution might be the word.

I think the way research has been carried out in this country is very good, very balanced and well regulated. It really lends itself to clinical trials. We aren't going to be disappointed - we are going to have patients hopping and skipping out of the wards in several years' time because the therapy works.

Why stem cell research is so important

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