The ISCF was set up in January 2003. The aim was to bring together nine international funding agencies that were already united in the belief that bilateral collaboration and information-sharing would accelerate progress and improve global practice in stem cell research. The agencies recognised that they had similarities in terms of scientific principles, scientific approaches and available resources, and a shared concern about the lack of standardised global criteria for the derivation, characterisation and maintenance of stem cell lines. At the first meeting in January 2003, which was chaired by former MRC Chief Executive Professor George Radda, the Members identified a number of other areas where joint working would be particularly beneficial:
- Encouraging collaborative research across nations, boundaries and disciplines.
- Encouraging sharing of resources and data, including cell lines, scientific protocols and guidance documents
- Providing training for researchers worldwide in the handling, growing and expanding of human stem cell lines.
- Identifying key research gaps and addressing them by capitalising on national strengths.
- Identifying funding schemes that facilitate transnational collaborations.
- Considering issues relating to management of intellectual property in stem cell research and development.
- Considering ethical issues in stem cell research.
By January 2004 membership of the ISCF had grown from nine to 14 organisations, that together represent 13 countries. Forum meetings are held every 6 months and hosted by a different member organisation/country each time.