Thursday, August 25, 2005

Lean Coverage of Big Bucks Issue

News coverage was sparse of this week's important recommendations about who gets the profit from California's publicly funded stem cell research.

Six billion dollars are immediately at stake. That is the cost of the seed money that California is going to provide for the research.

We could be wrong, but it appears that only three newspapers in California carried stories on the subject, which obviously is not a hot topic around water coolers. The trouble is those two deadly words – intellectual property. Deadly at least to editors and reporters. The folks who stand to profit are watching very closely.

But lack of news coverage also signals waning interest in the mainstream media about the doings of the California stem cell agency, which is no longer as novel as it was eight months ago. Newsrooms are in the throes of summer vacations, as well, which means that staffing issues can affect coverage decisions.

Offering stories in Wednesday's papers were reporters Steve Johnson of the San Jose Mercury News and Bernadette Tansey of the San Francisco Chronicle, both of which have important readerships involving biotech and venture capitalists. Reporter Terri Somers of the San Diego Union Tribune wrote a piece this morning. Her readers also include a substantial stem cell community.

Somers wrote that the IP plan California adopts for stem cell research is likely to serve as a model for other states rushing into the field.

She said, "In promoting Prop. 71, supporters pointed to a financial analysis they commissioned that said California could recoup $537 million to $1.1 billion if it were to get a cut of the licenses and royalties that companies would pay to use any Prop. 71-funded discovery in research or drug production.

"But this assumed either that private investors or companies would agree to pay additional money on top of what they traditionally pay researchinstitutes to license technologies or that the research institutes wouldbe willing to take less.

"The council's report said that is unrealistic."

In the San Jose paper, Johnson quoted H. Ralph Snodgrass, chief executive of VistaGen, who said, "What if the agency says we're going to tax 3 percent of the revenues -- or 12 percent -- of any product developed with this? It could have a stifling effect on the commercialization of the technology."

Tansey quoted Assemblyman Gene Mullin, D-South San Francisco, as saying, "I think there needs to be a greater emphasis on, 'What does the state get out of this deal?' You and I are paying $3 billion."

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