Thursday, March 14, 2019

Making 'Stem Cell Lemonade' in California

Trump visiting lab in China in 2017, whose research output is
surpassing the U.S.
 Photo: Andy Wong/AFP/Getty Images
California's $3 billion stem cell agency has what some might call an "unconscious" ally in its search for more billions to fuel its drive to create stem cell therapies and cures.

It is no small matter. The agency expects to run out of cash for new awards by the end of this year. It is hoping that voters will approve, in November of 2020, another $5 billion to carry on with its 14-year-old program, which is a pretty big ask.

Now comes President Trump with his latest proposed budget, which whacks away at scientific research. He is seeking to slash as much as $6 billion from the National Institutes of Health, the chief source of research funding in the country.

The American Association of Immunologists said this week that Trump's cuts “would devastate important research intended to prevent, treat, and cure innumerable diseases."

Trump's cuts play into a narrative that worked successfully in 2004 when California voters created the stem cell agency with 59 percent of them voting for Proposition 71. The campaign pushed the ballot initiative with the argument that then President Bush was crippling stem cell research and thus preventing development of new, nearly miraculous therapies.

Like Bush, Trump is something of a scientific villain, so to speak, one that can be used as a foil to convince the people of California to provide more money for stem cell research. Never let good villain go to waste might be the marching orders for the 2020 ballot campaign.

If not for California and its stem cell agency, voters would be told, children would have died (see here and here) and more than 50 clinical trials for stem cell treatments would have not existed.

It is no matter that Congress may not go along with Trump's reductions. The threat, which is likely to continue as long as Trump is president, is sufficient to fuel a ballot campaign.

Obviously, cuts in federal research funding are not something the scientific and biotech community applauds. Nonetheless, they could be picked apart to find morsels to feed a ballot campaign. The agency's backers might even say, "When the president gives you stem cell lemons, make stem cell lemonade."
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