Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Cash and the California Stem Cell Agency: A Critique Notes August Deadline for New Funding Initiative

California's $3 billion stem cell program is facing a cash crunch this year, and the latest commentary on its financial fate raises a host of questions. 

The critique comes from the Center for Genetics and Society, a Berkeley group that has long been critical of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), as the state stem cell agency is known. 

Writing on the center's blog, Pete Shanks briefly recapped the history of CIRM and its current financial situation. The agency expects to run out of funds for new awards this year and is  trying to raise privately more than $200 million. The cash is intended to bridge the gap between now and presumed voter approval of an additional $5 billion in November 2020. 

Quoting CIRM board transcripts, Shanks wrote: 
"They are still looking for an 'anchor investor,' who might encourage others (as an anchor store draws people to a shopping mall). Which makes CIRM board member Jeff Sheehy (long-term AIDS activist and former San Francisco Supervisor) sound prescient, since in September 2017 he had suggested that savvy voters might say (pp. 78–9 ): 
'So you went to fund-raise. You didn’t get enough to keep you going, so you’re coming back to me with your hand out. So why didn’t you get enough? Why did the people who you’ve been asking for money not think you were a good investment? Why should I?' 
"Good point. Indeed, some of the board members were over-optimistic in that 2017 assessment."
Shanks also raised other questions about the nature of CIRM's private fund raising effort and looming deadlines for qualifying a bond measure, along with a ballot initiative that will likely retool the existing law that created the agency in 2004. 

Shanks concluded,
"Propositions take considerable time to be approved. The deadline for submitting a proposed measure to the attorney general that’s intended for the November 2020 election is August 20, 2019 . In practice, that means that the proposition is probably being written now, or will be completed very soon, and preliminary backers have likely been identified and contacted already. Unless, of course, such funders cannot be found. 
"Will CIRM’s problems be solved? We’ll soon know."

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