Monday, January 04, 2016

From Royalties to Real Products: The Journal Science Looks at the Prospects for the California Stem Cell Agency

The headlines last week in the journal Science spoke of California’s stem cell “end game,” its “a race to the clinic” and its “prospects for new money.”

The article by Kelly Servick provided a quick status report on the Golden State’s $3 billion stem cell agency. The research effort last month approved a plan for spending its last $800 million in an attempt to fulfill the promises of the 2004 ballot campaign that created the research effort.

Servick wrote that the new plan could be critical to survival of the agency. She said,
“(W)hether there will be enough believers in CIRM to keep the agency afloat may depend on how well it can build—and publicize—a track record for moving stem cell discoveries to the clinic.”

The agency has been largely ignored for the last several years by the mainstream media, but its fresh, five-year plan has attracted some modest attention, including  Servick’s piece in Science Jan. 1.

The article largely sprang out of the December meeting at which the board of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), as the agency is formally known, approved its strategy for the next five years.

Servick also quoted Robert Klein, the former chairman of the agency, as saying he hopes to spearhead a new ballot initiative in 2018 to fund the agency beyond 2020, when its cash is expected to run out. At the December meeting, the board specifically avoided approval of a ballot effort and referred the question of future funding to a board subcommittee. No public meetings of that panel have been announced.

Servick began her story like this:

“Born out of discontent with the federal restrictions on research with cells from human embryos, California’s stem cell agency is at a key juncture: Over the past decade, it’s spent a large portion of its $3 billion budget nurturing fledgling disease therapies, but that state money may run out before most ments are ready for the clinic.”

She continued,

“Even if all goes according to plan, however, most CIRM-funded projects will not finish phase II trials in the next 5 years, and may not be ready for an industry partner, (Chairman Jonathan) Thomas told the board. ‘If [CIRM doesn’t] have additional funding at that point, we will have only partially met our obligation to develop therapies and cures.’”

She noted that one funding possibility is “large royalty payments” from CIRM-related research, something that was promised by backers of the stem cell ballot initiative in 2004. However, if any royalties do surface, they will go to the state general fund -- not to the stem cell agency. Lawmakers would have to approve an appropriation for the agency -- one that would also have to be approved by the governor. Currently, the agency is financed by money that the state borrows and which flows directly to the agency without the need for legislative or gubernatorial approval.

At the December meeting, Art Torres, vice chairman of the board and a former, longtime state lawmaker, expressed reservations about dealing with the Legislature.

Servick wrote,

“There are ‘people that don’t believe in what we do, who are members of the legislature,’ Torres warned, and they ‘could invariably impact any [CIRM funding] proposal.’”

The Science article is behind a paywall. If you would like a copy, please email me at
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