Sunday, December 08, 2019

LA Times: $5.5 Billion Measure for California Stem Cell Agency Could Actually Be a 'Downfall'

The Los Angeles Times, California's largest circulation newspaper, carried a piece today that called for withdrawal of the proposed, $5.5 billion ballot initiative that would save the financial life of the state's stem cell agency.

The article by Pulitzer Prize-winning business columnist Michael Hiltzik said the measure would perpetuate many of the flaws in the ballot proposition in 2004 that created the agency, officially known as the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM). 

In fact, Hiltzik said, the new measure "makes some of them worse."

"That’s dangerous," Hiltzik continued, "because although the measure could fuel the stem cell program for years to come, it might also prompt a repudiation by voters sensitive to its many imperfections. Such an outcome would be tragic for California and the advanced science already supported by CIRM."

Hiltzik's opinion piece was the first extended look at the proposed stem cell initiative by a major media outlet in California. It appeared on the front page of today's business section of the Times. On the paper's web site, the article was featured as a "weekend read" at the time of this writing. 

The Times says it has about 2 million readers on Sunday. It is a go-to source for other journalists when they are researching stories and trying to understand major issues facing the state. 

Hiltzik has followed the $3 billion agency since its inception and has been highly critical. Last spring, however, he wrote that the agency had "proved its value." In today's piece, he had a lot to say about the good work of the agency. 

In his first two paragraphs, Hiltzik declared that CIRM "has made great strides in advancing what’s known as regenerative medicine and placing California at the center of the developing science." Hiltzik also said that CIRM has financed state-of-the-art laboratories, attracted preeminent scientists and "brought scores of promising treatments for severe chronic diseases to the point of clinical trials."

But he also noted that the agency has "has so far failed to yield a single marketable clinical product." He continued, 
"That’s despite the sales pitch for Proposition 71 in 2004 -- that all that stood in the way of 'cures' for Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, spinal cord injuries and other maladies was money."
The greatest flaw of the agency, however, has more to do with public policy than science, Hiltzik wrote. And that is the exemption of the agency from the usual oversight by the legislature and the governor, an exemption contained in the measure that created the agency.

Voters provided CIRM with $3 billion in bond funding 15 years ago. 
Today that money has all but run out. Robert Klein, a real estate developer, first chairman of the agency and who sponsored Proposition 71, is now once again sponsoring the latest initiative to give it billions more. 

Hiltzik concluded,
"(Klein) should withdraw his measure, and CIRM’s leadership should write a new one or work with Gov. Newsom and the Legislature to map out the program’s next act. 
"CIRM’s leadership needs to show the public that it’s capable of taking charge of the program’s destiny. If it’s not willing to make its own case for CIRM’s continued existence, how can it persuade voters to give it one cent more?"
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1 comment:

  1. Anonymous4:22 PM

    I saw the Hiltzik piece in the Sunday paper and dismissed it as a hit piece. I later checked your blog report and thought I better read the column carefully. I did, and it was not a hit piece. It was Hiltzik expressing himself with the vigor that is appropriate for a good columnist. My question is probably the question: Will Klein’s baggage sink the measure?

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