Wednesday, November 23, 2011

California Stem Cell Agency Takes Initiative in PR 'War'

Jonathan Thomas, chairman of the $3 billion California stem cell agency, took to the blogosphere today with an item promoting CIRM's progress, declaring that it is a record of which Californians can be proud.

In his debut performance as a blogger, Thomas declared that the agency has 43 research projects that are in various stages of moving towards clinical trials. He wrote on CIRM's research blog,
"Given that it normally takes a decade or longer for a basic science discovery to reach clinical trials, 43 projects seemed to me like quite an achievement – an achievement that the people of California should take pride in supporting. Not only is CIRM driving stem cell science in our state, but through our national and international collaborations California has become a stem cell hub that accelerates stem cell progress worldwide."
Thomas, a Los Angeles bond financier, pointed to a new document from CIRM, titled "Funding therapies: Fueling Hope." It summarizes some of the agency's work and touts the "incredible potential" of stem cells.

The document also explains the laborious process for creating a therapy before it can be brought to market and actually used to treat patients. The document said,
"Altogether, carrying out the basic research, translational work and preclinical data leading up to a clinical trial can take a decade or longer, and that's just to start the clinical trial. CIRM’s funding approach speeds that timeline by providing stable funding that eliminates pauses in the research to raise new funds, by strategically funding areas thought to be barriers to the clinic and by forming teams of researchers who work in parallel rather than sequentially to reach clinical trials faster."
When Thomas was elected chairman of the agency last June, he told directors that the agency was in a "communications war" in which its record was not fully appreciated by the public. He made telling the CIRM story one of his top priorities.

Today's blog posting by Thomas and, more particularly the "Fueling Hope" document, will be useful to CIRM in dealing with the overblown expectations of rapid cures that were generated by the hype of the 2004 ballot initiative campaign that created the stem cell research program.

The campaign generated impressions among voters that cures – specifically human embryonic stem cell cures – were just around the corner and that the Bush Administration, with its restrictions on hESC research, was the only thing standing in the way. Indeed, without George Bush, there would be no state stem cell agency  since his stand against hESC created an apparent need for alternative funding. For voters who expected instant cures, however, CIRM must be a sad disappointment since it has developed no therapy that is being used to treat people.

Managing expectations is a critical task for CIRM, which will run out of funds in 2017 and which is expected to be asking voters for another multibillion dollar bond measure sometime in the next few years.

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