By Joseph Rodota and Bernard Munos
The sponsors of Proposition 71, the 2004 initiative that provided $3 billion in bonds to support stem-cell research, are readying a proposal to keep the agency alive after the last of these funds have been given out. According to recent news reports, a new $5 billion bond could be on the California ballot as early as November 2018.
Researchers supported by the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) have published hundreds of academic articles, but placed fewer than 30 drugs in clinical trials.
Even if all of these clinical trials resulted in drug candidates, they would still come up against the so-called “Valley of Death”—the well-documented shortage of funding for early-stage translational research.
California needs to move regenerative medicine from an academic timeline to a business timeline. The skills needed to turn an academic discovery into a commercial product are very different from the skills needed to be a successful academic scientist.
We proposed an alternative to continuing the current approach -- a state bond with three distinctive features:
A Focus on Entrepreneurs: Funds would be available only to companies, not academics (who would still be able to tap into billions in NIH funding for stem cell research);
A Focus on California: Only companies with a headquarters and a majority of employees in California, the nation’s center of overall innovation, or willing to relocate here; and
A Focus on Breakthrough Medicine: Only companies working on projects that have the potential to greatly impact patient health would qualify.
The University of California is well-qualified to administer this bond and report on its operations to the Legislature and the Governor, without the need for the cumbersome and controversial governance structure put in place by Proposition 71.
In exchange for the funds they receive, companies would tender to the University of California shares of their common stock, with an estimated value as determined by the most recent outside valuation or price set by investors. These shares would become part of the UC endowment -- and the University of California be free to sell or leverage these shares, or acquire additional shares, as it sees fit.
CIRM has over-invested in academic research, and under-invested in translating that research into therapies that cure diseases and prolong heathy lives. California needs to right that balance.
(Joe Rodota served as Cabinet Secretary to former California Governor Pete Wilson and director of policy for Arnold Schwarzenegger’s 2003 recall campaign. Munos is a senior fellow with FasterCures and the founder of the Innothink Center for Research in Biomedical Innovation.).
Here is a summary of the bond proposal.