Sunday, November 16, 2014

CIRM Board Member Sheehy on Stem Cell Agency Performance

The following is the text of what Jeff Sheehy, a 10-year veteran of the governing board of the California stem cell agency, had to say about its performance over the last decade.

He commented for a piece written by David Jensen, the publisher of this blog, that appeared in today's edition of The Sacramento Bee. Sheehy and other board members queried were told that it was likely that their comments would be severely limited in the article in The Bee because of the space limitations of the print media. They were also told that the full text of their comments would be carried on this Web site.

Those queried were given generally free rein but were told that the print article would address such questions as the achievements and shortcomings of the agency along with whether its work would be worth its $6 billion cost(including interest) and whether it had fulfilled the expectations of voters in 2004.

Jeff Sheehy
CIRM photo
Here is what Sheehy, a UC San Francisco communications manager and patient advocate member of
the board, said via email.
“It’s really too early to assess your first question, I believe.  It is ten years since Proposition 71 was passed, but it’s just over seven years since the litigation that blocked access to the bond funding was decided (May 2007).  We did start issuing grants in 2006 with some funds via bond anticipation notes and the Governor did provide $100 million. (I am extremely grateful to those who purchased the BANS and to Governor Schwarzenegger). But, we were obviously slowed down in the beginning by the lawsuit and we could not implement the full program envisioned in our initial strategic plan until we had access to the bond funding.  If one wants to look at our progress at a ten-year mark, I think 2017 or 2018 is a fairer date. And I would note that CIRM funded projects are being approved for clinical trials at an accelerating pace and we should have at least some initial results by then.

“As for your second question, I am certain that the investment in the California Institute of Regenerative Medicine is a wise one that has benefitted and will continue to benefit the state significantly.  CIRM has led the way in creating in California an impressive research infrastructure in regenerative medicine, a critical, cutting edge biomedical research approach that will lead to cures in several diseases and conditions.   In a period that included the Great Recession, facilities construction funded by CIRM alleviated some of its impact.  In addition, with NIH funding flat, CIRM keeps California researchers working and has brought numerous top and emerging researchers to California.  CIRM funding has helped the San Francisco Bay Area and San Diego sustain their rating as two of the three top biotech clusters in the country.

“And the importance of biotech and healthcare to California should not be underestimated.  In San Francisco, one in four jobs are healthcare related.  The emergence of biotechnology as a driver of the California economy will offer Californians early access to the latest therapies along with the wealth created from developing these therapies. Plus, biotech development and clinical delivery in the regenerative medicine space will be relatively labor intensive and will provide numerous well paying, highly skilled jobs.  These are jobs that will be resistant to outsourcing.

“Ultimately the core value of the investment will be the CIRM funded cures and therapies that improve the health and lives of Californians.”
 After sending the above, Sheehy added the following later:   “I had one other thought, and couldn't figure out how to blend it in.  I wonder if those working on legalizing marijuana would consider deriving revenue (i.e. taxes) and dedicating enough of that revenue to keep CIRM funded.
 “I think that legalizing marijuana has been advanced by the success of Prop. 216 and the medical marijuana movement.  I know Dennis Peron, campaigned with him in 1996, protested with him when (then state Attorney General Dan) Lundgren shut down his dispensary, and observed the benefits of marijuana for people with HIV/AIDS.  The Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club held its meetings at the dispensary when it re-opened (I was the club's president then).
 “So from my standpoint, marijuana is now associated with relieving human suffering due to disease and other health conditions.  And, funding research towards cures out of revenue derived from legalization seems sensible.”

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