Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Multi-Billion Dollar Ballot Measure for California Stem Cell Agency in 2018?

California's $3 billion stem cell research effort is scheduled to run out of cash in three short years, but the likelihood seems to be increasing that voters will be asked again to come up with additional billions for the state's stem cell agency.

In fact, the chairman of the stem cell agency, Jonathan Thomas, is saying flatly this week that his predecessor, real investment investment banker Bob Klein, intends to place a funding measure on the November 2018 ballot.

Klein led the ballot initiative campaign in 2004 that created the unusual -- for a state -- stem cell research program, officially called the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM). The agency is financed with cash that the state is borrowing. increasing total costs to roughly $6 billion because of the interest expense.
Jonathan Thomas, left, with Don Reed,
vice president of public policy, Americans
for Cures, Klein's advocacy group --
CIRM photo

Thomas' statement was contained in a letter to the governing board that recapped his work since he was elected by the board in 2011 to replace Klein. One section of the letter dealt with funding of the agency.

Thomas wrote,
"Bob has already announced that he intends to put a measure on the November 2018 ballot. We keep him updated on CIRM's progress so that he is fully informed."
Thomas added that he and two key CIRM staffers have "initiated discussions with a number of philanthropists and foundations interested in medical research who could be potential sources of funds to keep CIRM going in the event Bob's measure is not successful."

The California Stem Cell Report has queried Klein about his plans. The full text of his response will be carried when it is received.

Robert Klein, Americans for Cures
Klein has publicly mentioned a possible bond measure in the past, most recently in 2014, including a figure as high as $5 billion. It is unclear whether he has spoken more specifically on the matter since then.

Klein maintains a stem cell advocacy group, Americans for Cures, which has an active web site and an impressive list of scientific advisors, including Irv Weissman of Stanford, Rusty Gage of the Salk Institute and Owen Witte of UCLA.

Klein's 2004 stem cell campaign cost $34 million to convince California voters that the state needed to begin its own human embryonic stem cell (hESC) research effort in the wake of then President Bush's restrictions on federal funding in that area. The campaign created the impression that cures were close at hand, according to opponents and media observers. The agency is yet to back a therapy that is available for widespread use.

The election of Donald Trump as president is widely expected to trigger new, Bush-like restrictions on human embryonic stem cell research that could create the same sort of climate that helped lead to the success of the 2004 ballot initiative in California. 

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