RESEARCH ROW

Quitting top medical researcher lambasted by authorities

Officials accuse head of Barcelona Regenerative Medicine Center of prioritizing post in California

The CMRB has lost 16.8 percent of its budget in the last four years.
The CMRB has lost 16.8 percent of its budget in the last four years.GIANLUCA BATTISTA

Both the Catalan and central governments have vigorously defended their commitment to the Barcelona Regenerative Medicine Center (CMRB) in the wake of the decision of its director, Juan Carlos Izpisúa, to resign.

Izpisúa, one of the world’s pre-eminent stem cell researchers, handed in his notice due to government cutbacks in the sciences - the CMRB has lost 16.8 percent of its budget in the last four years. But the Catalonia regional economy chief, Andreu Mas-Colell, told EL PAÍS that “the budget, which is 1.7 million euros annually, will be maintained in 2014 and for the foreseeable future.”

Both administrations coincided in accusing Izpisúa of lacking dedication to the CMRB in favor of his post at the Salk Institute in California, where all the researcher’s patents are held.

Government lawyers have been mobilized to examine the intellectual property of the CMRB. Izpisúa intends to take 18 of the 21 projects running at the CMRB with him to California, as he considers them his own ideas and initiatives. The administrations will play all their legal cards to prevent this emptying of the Barcelona center, which will, in any case, remain open.

Mas-Colell, who was one of the prime movers in setting up the CMRB, admitted that Izpisúa was a great scientist and a key figure “in the beginnings of regenerative medicine in Spain.” But he underlined two reasons that led the board to withdraw its support. “It is not quite correct to say that Spain has lost a great scientist, because the truth is he wasn’t in Spain very much; Izipisúa first link was with the Salk and the Barcelona center was a research group linked to the Salk.

“In the current circumstances a research center in Spain requires a commitment of 100 percent from the director, with both feet rooted in the center,” he continued.

The board has chosen Ángel Raya, a former postdoctoral researcher for Izpisúa, to replace the outgoing director. “Raya is a notable researcher in the field [and] he is going to fulfill the condition we require,” Mas-Colell said.

The second issue concerns the intellectual property rights relating to the investigations. “The mere fact that Izipisúa is going to take 18 of the 21 research projects at the CMRB reveals what I said before: that this was not a strong center for Spanish science.”

Regarding the patents, Izipisúa said: “They insinuated that I was benefiting the Salk, but it was more like the other way around, since the Salk had to do all the administration work and pay for the management and the application for the patents, and even like that it shares them with the CMRB in proportion to the scientific contribution of each center. So where is the benefit for the Salk?”