CIRM Director Jeff Sheehy, chairman of the board's Scientific Subcommittee, longtime patient advocate and communications manager at UC San Francisco, sent along the following response. It was received before the federal court ruling on hESC research, which Sheehy could have added as a reason for CIRM support.
“I think, David, you are looking at this as a game of 'zero sum' economics in which you assume every dollar spent on stem cell research is a dollar lost to some other worthy state budget item.Sphere: Related Content
“The reason states issue general obligation bonds is that economists recognize that certain investments (historically in physical infrastructure like roads, bridges, ports, and school and university buildings for instance) create value that returns more than to the cost of the investment back to the state. Not only does building a bridge or road hire and pay companies and workers who then pay state income taxes and sales taxes, but there is a multiplier effect by which their personal spending of their wages, etc., on other items circulates through the economy creating additional spending. Further, the new bridge or road speeds other Californians to work faster and more efficiently saving hours of productive time that would have been spent in traffic, creating additional value. Ambulances or fire trucks get to emergencies faster saving lives or property. Given that some investments produce more money for the state in the long run than the money initially invested, states routinely issue government obligation bonds rather than try to budget this funding out of annual general fund dollars. The revenue from the increased economic activity deriving from the investment more than covers the bond repayments that come out of the general funds.
“The more salient question for CIRM is whether it is actually building a platform for the creation of future wealth or building a 'bridge to nowhere' that does little to increase the productive capacity of California. And the Institute of Medicine report, if it is to have any value, must answer that very question. Are the investments in the dozen new facilities for stem cell research, the training of new scientists and technicians from the undergraduate level through the post-doc level, and stem cell research from the basic, laboratory level on through to the clinic creating a platform by which additional wealth for California will be created far beyond the repayment costs of the bonds?
“And while I need a solid IOM report to definitively answer the question, I do believe that overall (minus a lot of superfluous contracts and overly high salaries and a cavalier attitude towards ensuring value for the taxpayers by many CIRM staffers) the investments in intellectual infrastructure made through Prop. 71 will pay off hugely for California as it leads the world in developing and deploying regenerative medicine.
“If CIRM does nothing else but functionally cure HIV infection as the LA Times article suggests is possible, the savings for the state will be huge in lowered medical costs and in income for the state from profits and the growth of Sangamo, based in Richmond CA. This approach targeting HIV may not work, but I feel strongly that eventually some cure for some disease or condition will come out of this spending.
“I also think companies will form and grow just like Intel, Apple, Google and eBay did from the investments made in research at California universities and institutes. Genentech and Gilead are both biotech giants that emerged from research done at California institutions that are generating substantial dollars in economic activity and creating jobs and tax revenue for the state. iPerian, forming and locating here thanks to CIRM and mentioned by you in an earlier column, might be a wealth generator like those mentioned above or it could be one or more of the many small biotech firms working in regenerative medicine up and down the state.
“So David, while I always greatly appreciate your commentary and your reporting, I think to put CIRM funding in the same barrel as annual general fund financing for schools is off the mark. With a five-year-old in public school in San Francisco, I am as frustrated with Sacramento¹s inability to adequately and consistently provide funding on an ongoing basis to educate our children as anyone could be. But pitting annual school funding against capital investments for our future will not stimulate the types of debate that will lead to answers for the respective, relevant questions.”