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Regenerative Medicine Institute Seeks to Attract Private Investors

By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, May 2, 2008 – If a new regenerative medicine venture proves successful, it could increase investors’ confidence in backing the cutting-edge technology, a senior military official said today.

With piecemeal public and private funding and $80 million of its own money, the Defense Department last month launched the Armed Forces Institute of Regenerative Medicine. The effort will comprise seven of America’s 10 foremost thinkers in the field, and has an overall budget of $250 million over the next five years.

Harnessing stem cell research and technology, the initiative in part will aim to find innovative ways to use an injured servicemember’s natural cellular structure to reconstruct new skin, muscles and tendons, and even ears, noses and fingers.

But asked if the quarter-billion funding is sufficient, Army Col. Robert Vandre said, “I don’t think we have quite enough money yet.”

Vandre, the research area director for Combat Casualty Care Research at the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command, estimates current funding will subsidize early clinical trials of the sophisticated medical science.

But to achieve a mission that includes using human stem cells to re-grow an entire limb, Vandre, in a conference call today, said the newly established institute will need additional support.

The key to tapping into private funding is slicing investors’ fears about the future of the sophisticated medical science, some of which sounds almost like “science fiction,” said Vandre. “Industry always worries about risk,” he added.

“If something’s a sure-thing, then they’re going to pull out their wallets and they’re going to do it,” Vandre said. “Now we have to get enough risk out of the way so that they’ll [invest].”

The colonel pointed out the potential returns investors could reap if one of the regenerative projects proves successful.

“If we could do healing without scarring, can you imagine how much money that would be worth?” he said. “If we can come up with something that looks even close, that will be bought immediately and they’ll pay for the clinical trials.”

Vandre praised the Defense Department for increasing the amount of funding it’s provided in the past for regenerative medicine exploration.

“I don’t think we have quite enough money yet, but compared to what they’ve spent in the past, this is a huge amount of money,” he said.

The National Institute of Health, in Bethesda, Md., the Department of Veterans Affairs, and local public and private matching funding are providing the remainder of the budget. Also supporting the initiative from academia are Rutgers University in New Jersey, Wake Forest University in North Carolina, and the University of Pittsburgh.

Vandre pointed out that the seven preeminent scientists participating in the effort are contributing about $100 million that already has been provided to them by National Institute of Health for similar research. “So it’s really a hodgepodge of funding agencies,” he added.

AFIRM will fall under the auspices of the U.S. Army Medical Research and Material Command, based on Fort Detrick, Md., and it also will work in conjunction with U.S. Army Institute of Surgical Research in San Antonio.

The Medical Research and Material Command is the Army’s lead medical research, development and related-material acquisition agency. It comes under U.S. Army Medical Command, which is led by Lt. Gen. (Dr.) Eric B. Schoomaker, the Army’s surgeon general.

Schoomaker called the future of regenerative medicine “truly amazing” during an April 17 news conference at the Pentagon announcing the start of AFIRM. “We're embarking on a new generation of research that's going to redefine Army and military medicine as we know it today,” he said.

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