Sunday, November 28, 2010

The California Stem Cell Agency and the Promises of its Creators

The California stem cell agency drew attention this morning on the front page of The Sacramento Bee's Sunday opinion section in two articles – one by yours truly and one by a San Diego stem cell researcher.

The scientist is Larry Goldstein of UC San Diego, who has received more than $14 million in grants from CIRM. Goldstein wrote that that “viewed against scientific principles, medical need, history and logic – the state's stem cell agency is a calculated but not reckless risk, and it is not merely a bet on a narrow research avenue.” In many ways, Goldstein's article seems to have been written in response to a piece in the New York Times this month that said that CIRM is a risky research endeavor, compared to the NIH, because it is narrowly focused on stem cells instead of a broader range of possible therapies.

Our piece was an overview of CIRM in connection with the promises of the election campaign of 2004 that created the program.

The article noted that the agency this month is facing the results of an external review and the departure of its chairman, Robert Klein. The article said,
"This confluence of self-examination and changing of the guard comes amid criticism over the agency's promise of transparency and openness as it operates independently from oversight of the governor and Legislature; conflicts of interest by a board of directors who have directed $1 billion in grants to universities and research enterprises to which they have links; and the fact that no embryonic stem cell therapy is ready for patients, although the 2004 campaign for Proposition 71 seemed to offer hope for speedy development of cures."
The article concluded,
"Regardless of the outcome of a future bond measure, CIRM is likely to be in business for another decade. It still has about $2 billion to hand out. And despite the 10-year time frame bandied about in the 2004 campaign, no sunset date exists for the stem cell agency. Whether the historic $6 billion investment, which includes $3 billion in interest, ultimately pays off for California – with therapies – is still very much an open question."
You can read the full piece here in The Bee and here.

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