Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The NY Times, CIRM and Shifting Sands

The financial woes at the California stem cell agency vaulted today onto the pages of the august New York Times. It was not a story that necessarily will find favor at CIRM.

Written by Andrew Pollack, the piece said that President Obama's actions “could cause state governments and philanthropists to pull back on billions of dollars they have pledged for such work.”

Pollack discussed the California research effort as a case study in how the shifting sands of science are moving in one major arena.

Pollack said Obama's action has removed the original reason for the creation of CIRM. He reported as well that hard economic times have hammered foundations and the wealthy donors, now not so wealthy.

Pollack covered familiar ground for this blog's readers on CIRM's financial plight as well as its plans to privately market $400 million in state bonds so that it does not run out of money late this year.

He noted that CIRM is turning towards the biotech industry, a move that came under fire last week at a hearing on the CIRM stategic plan at the City of Hope. Its CEO, Michael Friedman, sits on the CIRM board. Pollack quoted Linda Iverson, a neuroscientist at the City of Hope, as saying at the hearing.
“To use taxpayer money essentially as venture capital money is beyond the pale.”
Pollack continued,
Alan Trounson, CIRM’s president, responded by saying Californians had approved the $3 billion effort to develop therapies, 'not just to get the work in scientific journals.'“
Pollack concluded,
“In the meantime, 'a lot of people are running on fumes in their labs,' said Jeanne F. Loring, director of the Center for Regenerative Medicine at the Scripps Research Institute in San Diego.

Even with the federal financing restrictions lifted, Dr. Loring said, “We need CIRM.”
Pollack's story was measured and fair, but by raising at a national level questions about CIRM, it adds to the burden that the agency faces while it tries to sell bonds.

With the exception of reports by Terri Somers at the San Diego Union-Tribune, no daily California newspaper has written in such detail about CIRM finances. It goes without saying that a total vacuum exists on television and radio.

The NY Times story may trigger some additional coverage. But given the gloomy state of the newspaper business, the tales of CIRM and its travails are likely to vanish once again into a media black hole in the near future.


  1. Dave and Sally,

    Why is it that when the NY Times weighs in on a story it elevates the issue to something that must be considered by all "reasonable people"? I was one of them once... Maybe no longer.

    Fact is this blog and Terri Somers at the San Diego Union-Tribune have already reported on these issues.

    It's great the the NY Times is bringing this information to others across the USA.

    But if you're interested in stem cell research in California, you probably know the best sources of information.

    This is one. The other is the San Diego UT. And if you want the occasional opinionated rant, check out www.consumerwatchdog.org .


    John M. Simpson
    Certified Curmudgeon


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