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Workshop II (Beijing, 2013): The Political Economy of the Global Stem Cell Therapy Market

Innovation in lifesciences in general and stem cell science in particular is driven by interlinked set of global markets with many and various governance arrangement at national and transnational levels. Predominant among these markets are research funding, scientific labour, research materials, clinical labour, venture capital, patenting and, at last but not the least, health consumers. It is the operation of the latter market which, in the case of stem cell science, has provoked controversy across the globe in countries such as South Korea, Thailand, China, India, the US, Japan and Italy as the demand from health consumers for treatment of diseases as diverse as spinal cord injury, neuro degenerative disorders, diabetes mellitus, heart disease and Lyme disease has collided with the capacity of medical scientists to deliver innovative stem cell therapies. Global health consumer demand for stem cell therapies is vibrant but the supply of treatments from the conventional science-based model of innovation is small and unlikely to increase in the near future. At the same time, models of medical innovation have emerged that can respond to the demand, often employing a transnational value chain to deliver the product. Much of the commentary has approached the issue from the supply side perspective, demonstrating the extent to which national and transnational regulation fails to impose what are regarded as appropriate standards on the 'illicit' supply of stem cell therapies.

 In contrast, this workshop was held to discuss the political economic analysis with a strong demand side analysis as presented in the forthcoming paper by Salter, Zhou and Datta (2014). The paper and the presentation in the workshop argued that the problem of what is termed  'stem cell tourism' is embedded in the demand-supply relationship of the health consumer market and its engagement with different types of stem cell therapy innovation and that to be meaningful, discussions of regulation must recognize that analysis or risk being sidelined by a market which ignores their often wishful thinking.

Participation in the event was by invitation only.