“State stem cell agency hasn't lived up to its hype.”
“As far as the public is concerned, nagging questions remain: Has the institute been effective enough? How good should California taxpayers feel about the institute's use of their $3 billion?
“The answer is a decidedly mixed one.
“Part of the problem is that California taxpayers had outsize expectations when they passed Prop. 71(which created the agency).”
“Progress on stem cell research has been significant - but it's been the progress of the tortoise rather than the hare. It was irresponsible for the backers of Prop. 71 to convince the California public that cures were just around the corner, and it is unfortunate that so many Californians are disappointed with the institute because they believed this.
“'People were schooled to believe that all of these breakthroughs were right around the corner,' said Marcy Darnovsky, executive director of the Center for Genetics and Society. "You can't schedule scientific breakthroughs.'
“'That's not the institute's fault. Still, it's been a struggle to get the agency to use the best organizational practices. In 2012, a blue-ribbon committee of the National Academy of Sciences released a report after a yearlong review that found conflicts of interest on the CIRM board that threatened to 'undermine respect for its decisions.' It also found significant flaws in the agency's grant-approval process.'
“The institute responded to all of this criticism by dragging its feet about making necessary changes to improve operations and create a board with more independence. Last year, it changed its voting procedures for board members who are members of institutions, to answer the criticism - but the change came awfully late.”
“Prop. 71 was an initiative passed based on the politics of the time. It's difficult to call it a total failure, especially during a time when U.S. public investment in scientific research is so low.
But stem cell research has finally gotten off the ground all over the country, and the institute's operations over the past decade haven't inspired the confidence California voters would need to offer the agency more money. The agency will need to rely on private investment if it's to continue its mission.”
“As a society, we have a moral and ethical obligation to pursue this potentially life-enhancing science with a sense of mission that is now lacking in the nation's capital. California has long been a leader in biotechnology and other burgeoning research industries. Proposition 71 gives the state an opportunity to fund another crucial area of medical technology. This state is big enough to support such an adventurous and exciting quest -- and it should -- since it offers not just promise, but hope.”
The California stem cell agency could and does make much the same argument today for continued financial support.
(Editor's note: The National Academy of Sciences report mentioned in the editorial was prepared by a committee of the Institute of Medicine, which is the health arm of the academy.)