A big blow-up in Barcelona over biotech patents and research cash may bring a famous world master of stem-cell research back to La Jolla's Salk Institute full time, according to accounts in Spanish and science media.
Juan Carlos Izpisúa Belmonte abruptly stepped down a week ago as the director of the Center of Regenerative Medicine in Barcelona, reports Science Insider, a politics and policy website of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
Izpisúa Belmonte was personally involved in most of the research projects at the center, which he ran while also a professor at the Gene Expression Laboratory at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in San Diego, California.
Press reports have suggested that he may try to take many ongoing projects with him and that this could reduce CMRB to an empty shell.
Izpisúa Belmonte is one of the elite expat scientists lured back to help raise Spain's scientific profile since the beginning of the century.
After the adoption of a 2003 law for assisted reproduction that allowed researchers to use frozen human embryos and derive embryonic stem cells, the Catalan and Spanish governments charged him with the creation of CMRB as a pioneering research center in developmental biology and regenerative medicine.
Neither the scientist nor the Barcelona institute are talking, but the dispute is believed to center on "the lack of financial and political support" from national and regional governments in Madrid and Catalonia.
Izpisúa Belmonte did not respond to requests for comment. He has not publicly discussed his future; many expect him to take up research at the Salk Institute full-time.
[Spanish newspaper] El País has reported that “Izpisúa has the intention to take with him 18 out of the 21 scientific projects at the center, considering them his ideas or initiatives.”
The web page for Belmonte's La Jolla gene-expression lab, called GEL-B for short, on Salk's website lists a total of 27 research associates, working on an array of exotic technologies for manipulating genomes of various species. The payoff could be billions of dollars for Salk and its successful inventors.
At GEL-B, we study how genes and molecules orchestrate the development of an embryo. The questions addressed by the laboratory include: How does one cell give rise to millions of cells, and how do they come to be organized into complete structures such as limbs, a heart or brain? How stem cells differentiate and give rise to over 200 cell types that constitute the human body?
The split between the famous Spanish scientist and his homeland may spawn a messy series of lawsuits, especially if he tries to grab the intellectual property for Salk, Andreu Mas-Colell, Catalonia’s minister of economy and knowledge was quoted as saying.
“I very much hope that we don’t get entangled in legal disputes on matters of intellectual property,” he says. “The board…would love the scientific collaboration between researchers in Spain and Dr. Izpisúa [to] continue.”
Carles Constante, director-general of planning and research for health at the Catalan government, told the publication, "Izpisúa Belmonte was principal investigator on 13 of the 21 projects, but that under Spanish law, the intellectual property rights remain with the institute."
corrected headline 1/20 12:45 p.m.)