Sunday, November 16, 2014

Comments From the First President of the California Stem Cell Agency

The following is the text of what Zach Hall, the first president of the California stem cell agency and who served from 2005 to 2007, had to say about its performance over the last decade.

Hall, who is retired and currently on the board of the New York Stem Cell Foundation, developed the California agency’s strategic plan that largely remained in place until the last couple of years. He commented for a freelance piece written by David Jensen, the publisher of this blog. The article appeared in the Nov. 16, 2014, edition of The Sacramento Bee.

Hall and others queried were told that it was likely that their comments would be limited in the piece in The Bee because of the space limitations of the print media. They were also told that the full text of their comments would be carried on this Web site.

Zach Hall
NY Stem Cell photo
They were told that the print article would address such questions as whether the work of the agency would be worth its $6 billion cost(including interest), whether it had fulfilled the expectations of voters in 2004 along with discussing the achievements and shortcomings of the agency.

Here is what Hall, former director of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, said via email. 
“CIRM: 10 years after
 “From a scientific standpoint, there is no doubt that CIRM has been an unqualified success. The passage of Proposition 71 in California not only provided much-needed funds for research and training, but gave stem cell scientists around the world a huge psychological boost in a dark time when NIH funds for stem cell research were severely restricted. The funds in California attracted new scientists to the field and supported the training of a new generation of stem cell scientists.  The result has been the establishment of a number of major centers of stem cell research in California and a steady stream of significant results in basic and applied research, some of which now underlie current efforts to develop therapies.  In contrast to some state efforts, CIRM can be proud that it has spent public money in this area wisely and with integrity.  
“CIRM has also clearly played an important role in promoting and encouraging pre-clinical and clinical therapeutic development, breaking new ground in developing ways for government and the private sector to work together. Because this road has been less-travelled, these efforts have been more difficult and CIRM’s ultimate success in promoting therapeutic development remains to be determined.  Nevertheless, CIRM’s attention to this difficult problem is of major significance, since CIRM has been one of the few government entities to try to address the problem in new and creative ways. 
“Are new stem cell therapies available?  The thought that therapies might be developed over the 10 year life-span of CIRM was always more a hope than a realistic outcome, but there is now reasonable expectation, partly because of CIRM, that cell-replacement therapy may be effective for a number of major diseases.  Will the investment of $6 B pay off in terms of economic development?  This question probably will not be answered for another ten years.  Could things have been done differently or better? Undoubtedly.  With such a huge (some would say excessive) budget, not all the money was spent wisely. In addition, the agency was burdened with a cumbersome and conflicted governance structure whose difficulties consumed far too much of the agency’s time and energy.   
“In sum, CIRM is a bold, new initiative that has given new life in California to a field of biomedical research that looks ever more promising for curing disease and saving lives. The visionary investment by California in this burgeoning field will likely pay dividends for decades to come.”    
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