Monday, December 19, 2011

San Jose Merc to California Stem Cell Agency: Time to Bow Out

The $3 billion California stem cell agency should shut its doors when its cash runs out in about six years and turn over development of stem cell therapies to industry and academe, the San Jose Mercury News said in an editorial on Saturday.

The piece in the leading newspaper in California's Silicon Valley was headlined, "Stem Cell Institute Should Take a Bow (Out)."

The newspaper wrote,
"This state is in financial crisis with no full recovery in sight. Bankrolling the next phase of research would come at the expense of other critical state services, including public education, that are state government's core mission and already are starved by budget cuts. It would be a mistake to pile more debt onto the state's already heavy bond obligations, which are paid off from the same general fund that pays for schools and other services. Medical research is important, but it is not at the heart of state government's mission. Bond measures now need to deal with water supplies and other looming crises."
The editorial said CIRM has provided a "strong foundation from which universities and companies can move toward cures."

But the newspaper concluded,
"Cures remain elusive -- there is never a guarantee with scientific research -- but the 10-year start voters approved was meant to be just that. The promise of stem cell treatments now must be kept alive with funding from industry, academic institutions and private foundations and philanthropists."
The editorial comes as the seven-year-old agency is driving to turn research into therapies that can actually be used in treatments. At the same time, CIRM is considering asking California voters to approve another multibillion bond measure in the next few years, a proposal that seems to be fresh news to many in the media.

The San Jose newspaper covered the stem cell agency with some detail in its first year of operation. In the last few years, however, the paper's coverage has been all but non-existent, like most of the news media in California.

Earlier this month, the paper published an overview of the agency, which highlighted the discussions by former CIRM Chairman Bob Klein about another bond issue, along with the fact that the cures promised by the campaign of 2004 have not materialized. The proposed bond issue is old news for most persons who have followed CIRM; the plan has been around publicly for more than a year. But the call for more cash comes a surprise to many of in the media. And to the public. So it is likely to pop up again as other news outlets re-visit the agency from time to time.

The presence of another electoral campaign also imposes a different sort of burden on CIRM – something quite removed from such matters as the basic biology of stem cells. It means that the stem cell agency's endeavors are being evaluated in a political context, which involves such questions as whether its actions are designed to generate the millions in campaign contributions necessary to win a statewide election or whether it is neglecting valuable research for something that will instead generate a high profile result for the benefit of the campaign but not add much to the science.

It is all part of tactics and strategy involved in the "communications war" that CIRM Chairman Jonathan Thomas discussed with CIRM board members last June in his bid to win election to his post.

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