Sunday, February 23, 2014

Robert Klein, the California Stem Cell Agency and a $5 Billion Proposal

The California stem cell agency last week put a little distance between it and its former chairman, Robert Klein, who is currently touting a new, $5 billion bond measure to rescue the agency from its financial demise.

The agency's comments came in response to a news story about comments that Klein, a Palo Alto real estate investment banker, made at a symposium at UC San Diego's Moores Cancer Center.

Bradley Fikes of the San Diego U-T wrote a story on Feb. 20 about the appearance that was headlined “$5B initiative proposed for stem cell research.” Fikes said,
“Supporters of California’s multibillion-dollar stem cell program plan to ask for $5 billion more to bring the fruits of research to patients.”

Fikes reported that Klein said “he’s going to be talking with California voters about the proposal. If the public seems receptive, backers will work to get an initiative on the 2016 ballot to extend funding for the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine(CIRM).”

Klein, who left the agency nearly three years ago, has talked for several years about another bond measure on top of the $3 billion, 10-year borrowing effort approved by voters for CIRM in 2004. His latest statements are the first in which he has publicly specified a figure.

In the wake of Fikes' story, the California Stem Cell Report asked the agency for a comment on Klein's remarks and his current role at the agency. Kevin McCormack, senior director for communications, replied Friday,
“Bob has been talking about a new bond initiative for a couple of years now so this is not altogether surprising. However, our focus remains where it always is, on our mission and the progress that is being made by CIRM-funded researchers to find new treatments and cures for patients, and we are continuing to explore avenues to sustain that progress.”

Currently the agency is looking into some sort of public-private arrangement that could finance its operations beyond 2017, when funds will run out for new awards. The 2004 initiative limited the agency's $3 billion bond authorization to only 10 years. CIRM is counting the 10 years as beginning from the date the first bonds were sold.

So far, the assumed public contribution for CIRM's future is a fraction of what Klein is touting – only $200 million.

Klein's public appearances around the state talking up another bond measure raise questions about how his efforts fit with the planning of the agency itself and the financial explorations of the current chairman, Jonathan Thomas, a Los Angeles bond financier, and other members of the CIRM board. California policy makers, potential wealthy donors, foundations and corporations may well be confused about whether Klein is speaking for the agency either directly or indirectly.

Given McCormack's carefully worded statement, it is reasonable to assume that CIRM is not entirely enthusiastic about Klein's bond measure pronouncements.

Additionally, premature discussion of more state borrowing, which has been criticized by Gov. Jerry Brown, could lead to a hardening of positions at an early stage. In 2011, when Klein initially broached another bond issue, the San Jose Mercury News said in an editorial,
“What planet are these guys from?....Going back for more would make no sense regardless of the economy....”


  1. Anonymous9:02 AM

    If this is supposed to be about cures, why did CIRM just give its largest grant ever- $40 MILLION - for some research center at Stanford that has nothing to do with treatments? How is that going to cure anyone? The priorities seem screwed up.

  2. Re the $40 million genomics award, CIRM's position is that the genomics research is necessary "to gain a deeper understanding of the disease processes in cancer, diabetes, heart disease and mental health, and ultimately to try and find safer and more effective ways of using stem cells in medical research and therapy."

    Was it absolutely necessary for the agency to make this grant in order to guarantee development of stem cell therapies? Some people say no.

  3. Anonymous4:42 AM

    Typical "so-called" 501c3, they want public money, then they squander and give it away, after they run out they come crying for more money, saying "look what we do, we are so good". BS.
    People die, they have for millions of years, get over it!! It's all about the money.

    1. Anonymous7:09 PM

      What an ignorant thing to say. Obviously neither you nor anyone close to you suffers from Spinal Cord Injury, ALS, Huntington disease, Parkinson's disease, Type 1 Diabetes, or any of the other conditions that either kill slowly and painfully or leave one very much alive but extremely debilitated. Stem cell research could improve lives all over the world. Much better to put money towards that than pointless wars.

  4. To avoid any misunderstanding, the California stem cell agency is a state government agency -- not a nonprofit (501C3) organization. However, it can accept donations -- none recently. It is considering creating a nonprofit arm as a way to raise funds to help continue its operations beyond 2017, when the cash for new awards runs out.


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