Tuesday, September 10, 2019

$5.5 Billion Stem Cell Ballot Measure: California Backers Taking First Formal Step This Month

CIRM graphic
Backers of a California ballot initiative to provide $5.5 billion more for the state's cash-strapped stem cell agency say they will take their first official step by the end of this month. 

That's when they will submit the proposed measure to California election officials and trigger a many-months-long process. The effort is aimed at ensuring that the nearly 15-year-old research effort survives in a meaningful way beyond next year.

The stem cell agency, officially known as the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), expects to  run out of money for new awards as early as late October.  It has already cut off grant applications except for a joint sickle cell effort involving the National Institutes of Health

Robert Klein, a Palo Alto real estate investment banker, and his stem cell advocacy group, Americans for Cures, are leading the way on the initiative. Melissa King, executive director of the organization, told the California Stem Cell Report last week that the wording of the initiative is still being crafted.

King said, however, that she expected the measure to be submitted to the California secretary of state before October. She said that one area still being drafted involves providing assistance for low income patients and their families in rural areas who do not have the wherewithal to travel to and participate in clinical trials.  

The initiative filing will trigger a lengthy process to gather the  633,212 signatures of registered voters necessary to qualify the  proposal for November 2020 ballot. Gathering those signatures is a task performed by specialized firms. It could cost something in the neighborhood of $5 million or more, which Klein will have to raise on his own.

Many more signatures than the minimum are gathered because significant numbers of the signatures are commonly determined not be valid.

The ultimate deadline for qualification is June 25 of next year, 131 days before the Nov. 3 election. But the signatures will have to be submitted well before then.

The stem cell agency was created in 2004, also by a ballot initiative, with $3 billion in state bond funding. The new initiative will likewise use bond funding, which roughly doubles the cost to taxpayers because of interest expense on the borrowed cash.

The 2004 ballot campaign was supported by Hollywood stars and Nobel Prize-winning scientists. It generated grand expectations that stem cell therapies were right around the corner. While CIRM is currently involved in 56 clinical trials, it has yet to back a therapy that is widely available. Clinical trials are the last step before a medical treatment is approved for widespread use and have a high failure rate. 

Klein led the campaign in 2004 and became the first board chairman of the agency. Klein has been gathering information, statistics and support for the effort at his Palo Alto offices. 

In June, he told the California Stem Cell Report:
"This medical revolution holds the promise of restoring health and quality of life for many of California’s individuals and families suffering from chronic disease and injury.
"However, the last tactical mile to bring this broad spectrum of therapies to patients will require more funding and the thoughtful support of California’s public as the human trials and discoveries are refined and tested, overcome numerous obstacles or complications, and ultimately serve to improve the life and reduce the suffering of every one of us."
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