Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Bloomberg: California Stem Cell Cash Shrinking, Pressure for Results

The headline this morning on Bloomberg News read “California’s Stem-Cell Quest Races Time as Money Dwindles.”

 The status report on the $3 billion California stem cell agency came as its 29 directors meet in Los Angeles today to consider new directions for the agency – not to mention finding a source to replace the funding which runs out in 2017. (Live coverage of the meeting will begin at 9 a.m. PST on the California Stem Cell Report.)

 The article by Mark Melnicoe is a rare national/international look at the Golden State's unprecedented, nine-year-old effort to turn stem cells into cures, as the agency's motto goes. The California Institute of Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), the formal name for the agency, is largely ignored by the national media. California news outlets also devote few resources to covering agency matters.

Melnicoe's piece covers familiar ground for readers of California Stem Cell Report and others familiar with the agency. But it is a valuable tool for understanding how “outsiders” may view the effort.

Melnicoe wrote,
“California’s government-run stem-cell research agency, on course to spend $3 billion in taxpayer money to find treatments for some of the world’s most intractable diseases, is pushing to accelerate human testing before its financing runs out.”
He continued,
“The largest U.S. funding source for stem-cell research outside the federal government, it’s under pressure to show results to attract new money from pharmaceutical companies, venture capitalists or even more municipal bonds. 
“'We need to figure out how to keep them going,' said Jonathan Thomas, a founding partner of Saybrook Capital LLC in Los Angeles, and chairman of the institute’s board, which meets today. 'We could do public-private partnerships, venture philanthropy, a ballot box.'” 
The Bloomberg article also sounded a cautionary note. It said,
“Brock Reeve, executive director of the Harvard Stem Cell Institute, said a rush could waste money by going too far down paths with false promise. 'There have been a lot of clinical trials in the stem cell field broadly that haven’t panned out,' Reeve said.” 
Specifically mentioned in the Bloomberg piece was the clinical trial by Geron, the first in the nation of an hESC therapy, which was partially financed with a $25 million CIRM loan. The trial was abandoned by Geron, which then sold its stem cell assets to Biotime, an Alameda, Ca., firm, whose top executives come from Geron. Biotime has not resumed the trial.

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