Monday, April 09, 2007

Sacramento's Stem Cell Topic of The Week: Sharing the Swag

You could call it Stem Cell Week in the Big Tomato, as Sacramento is sometimes known. Today begins a round of events in the capital city linked closely to the California stem cell agency and the dreaded topic of intellectual property, which really is a simple question of who wins and who loses.

California stem cell Chairman Robert Klein speaks today at a luncheon meeting of Sacramento Press Club, followed by a CIRM hearing this afternoon on IP issues. Tomorrow the institute's Oversight Committee holds a meeting in Sacramento. And on Wednesday, the Senate Health Committee takes up SB771, legislation by Sen. Sheila Kuehl, D-Santa Monica, aimed at ensuring a return to the state on products developed as a result of the state-funded research. Her bill is also aimed at providing affordable access to stem cell therapies. (For more background see "White Knights.")

We have already seen opposition to the measure from California's biotech industry. But three other groups have announced support or at least partial support.

Donna Gerber, governmental relations director of the California Nurses Association, sent an endorsement letter to Kuehl, which said,
"Without the changes proposed by SB771, Prop. 71 has the potential to become a direct giveaway of three to six billion dollars in public funds to large biotech and pharmaceutical corporations that stand to make enormous sums of profits off the public through.

"Current regulations do not ensure that uninsured residents, who have few resources to pay for expensive stem cell treatments, will be able to access those therapies when they become available. They also restrict the ability of the publicly funded programs to get discounts on stem cell therapies the state has helped pay to develop. Similarly, the regulations propose to cap the state's share of revenues from products developed with Prop. 71 funds, instead of allowing the state to receive a return commensurate with its contribution to the research.

"SB771 will ensure that the state benefits from its $3 billion investment in stem cell research by requiring research grantees and licensees to share revenues from the stem cell therapies that the state has paid to help develop and provide discounts on stem cell drugs."
Marcy Darnovsky, associate executive director of the Center for Genetics and Society, wrote,
"This bill would ensure that the state receives a fair return from any profitable discoveries made with publicly-funded stem cell research while improving access by economically vulnerable Californians. But we are concerned that the bill as currently written does not go far enough to protect Californians from potentially unfair pricing practices.

"However, we are concerned that potentially unfair pricing practices could harm Californians. If faced with excessively high prices for drugs or treatments, insurers would likely either pass the costs on to patients or fail to cover them. No one wants to see medical treatments developed with public funds be inaccessible to middle-class Californians who have medical insurance. We would like to see SB 771 amended to provide a specific mechanism or procedure with which the state can act to prevent excessive pricing of inventions developed with public funding."
A third group, the California Alliance for Consumer Protection, endorsed the measure, declaring it will help ensure that there will be continuing funds for stem cell research, among other reasons.

(Editor's note: Sacramento is known as the Big Tomato because of the thousands of acres of tomatoes that are grown in the vicinity. Decades ago, the Sacramento River used to run red with waste from tomato processors during the summer.) Sphere: Related Content

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