Thursday, October 16, 2008

Economists Say "Too Early" to See Significant, Quantifiable CIRM Results

Has the four-year-old, $6-billion, California human embryonic stem cell research effort already paid off?

According to a $50,000 study commissioned by the state stem cell agency, it is "too early to expect to observe significant quantifiable health and economic benefits from CIRM’s funding."

The 31-page report by the Analysis Group of Menlo Park, Ca., which previously performed two controversial economic impact studies for the Prop. 71 campaign, was originally scheduled to be released in January. The document was made available to the public on Oct. 8 after the California Stem Cell Report asked about it in connection with CIRM's plans to spend $300,000 for another economic study.

Analysis affirmed that it is too early to draw definitive economic conclusions about the world's largest human embryonic stem cell research program. The report also contained useful summaries of CIRM's efforts and related stem cell activities in California.

It said, for example,
"Some stem-cell related companies appear to have increased activities in California. For example, Stem Cell Sciences is expanding into California from the UK, and companies like Invitrogen and Novocell (formerly CyThera) have hired new scientists from within and outside the U.S. Other companies, such as Jackson Labs, have committed to major relocations or large-scale expansions in California. As an example, Jackson Labs is in the process of developing and expanding a new California research facility near Sacramento that will ultimately be more than 200,000 sq ft."
The report is largely based on CIRM press releases and other CIRM documents, which presented the justification for another, six-month study at a cost of $300,0000 and continued ongoing work for many years by an economic consultant. The Analysis Group's and the report's two authors, Laurence Baker of Stanford and Bruce Deal(see photo), managing principal of Analysis.

Deal and Baker wrote,
"While it is clearly too early in the course of CIRM’s activities to make a broad assessment of their economic benefits, it is possible to begin to monitor and report on some aspects of CIRM’s activities and their relationships to possible sources of economic benefits."
We queried Don Gibbons, chief communications officer for CIRM, concerning the relationship between the $300,000 proposal and the $50,000 study. He replied,
"It is a very different study from the one proposed in the RFP. Instead of analyzing existing related studies and making projections based on those studies, we are seeking to benchmark certain data points now and determine what data we should be collecting going forward so that we can compare today’s benchmarks to data from serial reviews over time. This requires much more extensive work."
CIRM obviously has an inherent self-interest in demonstrating its value and assuring its existence well beyond its 10-year financing limit. CIRM Chairman Robert Klein has talked on more than one occasion about keeping CIRM alive pretty much indefinitely, but it only has bond funding capabilities for 10 years. Perpetuating CIRM is one of the goals of Klein's $500 million biotech loan proposal, which is aimed at providing an additional $100 million in funding. Klein has additionally spoken of going to the legislature in a few years with a request for additional funding. He would certainly need a hefty study demonstrating CIRM's worth to California to support such an appeal.

Until more time passes and more data are gathered, that tome remains to be produced. Meanwhile, Deal and Baker say,
"CIRM research grants are just beginning to go out, and it would not be reasonable to expect any health benefits or therapies attributable to CIRM at this time. Making predictions about the likelihood of particular future breakthroughs for particular diseases is outside our area of expertise. It is possible that no new treatments of widespread therapeutic use will be developed, which would mean very limited or no economic benefits from improved health."
But on the other hand, Deal and Baker report,
"All told, the information available to date suggests that California is already starting to see new economic activity resulting from CIRM and that there is significant potential for additional future economic benefits."
We are certain that Deal and Baker will find ample evidence over the next few years to document CIRM's value. We hope that CIRM and Deal and Baker will share the raw data and other information with other economists as well.

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