Thursday, April 27, 2017

The Journal Nature Says: 'Last Stage' for California's Stem Cell Research Program

The prestigious journal Nature this week is calling it the "final test" for California's $3 billion plunge into development of stem cell therapies for afflictions ranging from cancer to arthritis.

The California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), as the stem cell agency is formally known, expects to run out of cash for new awards in June 2020. The 12-year-old agency was created by a ballot initiative campaign that led voters to believe that nearly miraculous stem cell treatments were just around the corner. So far the agency has not backed a stem cell therapy that is widely available.

For Nature, the situation merited this headline yesterday on its web site,
"California’s $3-billion bet on stem cells faces final test
"Major investment in regenerative medicine enters its last stage — and the money might run out before treatments are ready."
Amy Maxmen wrote the article. She said,
"Now, the pot of money — one of the biggest state investments in science — is running dry before treatments have emerged, raising questions about whether Californians will pour billions more into stem-cell research."
Maxmen continued,
"If they don’t, that could leave hundreds of scientists without support, and strand potentially promising therapies before they reach the market. 'It’s an issue of great concern,' says Jonathan Thomas, chair of the board for the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) in Oakland." 
Maxmen also noted the critical assessment of CIRM in 2012 by the Institute of Medicine and some subsequent changes made by the agency's board. She said,
"Jim Lott, a member of the state board that oversees CIRM’s finances, says that he is not satisfied with the changes. He also argues that CIRM may not have been strategic enough in directing research. 'Some people say if they had a better focus, they might have achieved cures.'"
The Nature piece covered familiar ground for readers of the California Stem Cell Report. But she had further news from Bob Klein, a Palo Alto, Ca., real estate investment banker. Maxmen wrote,
"Bob Klein, the property developer who put Proposition 71 on the ballot and established CIRM, isn’t waiting for the money to run out. He leads an advocacy group, Americans for Cures, which will soon poll voters  to see whether they would approve another $5 billion in funding. If it looks like at least 70 percent of Californians support that plan, he’ll start a campaign to put another initiative on the ballot in 2018.
"Klein hopes that Californians will rise in support of science at a time when the Trump administration has proposed drastic cuts to the NIH budget. If public enthusiasm is not so strong, Klein says, he’ll aim for the 2020 elections, when voter turnout should be higher because it will coincide with the next presidential race."
Maxmen concluded with this comment from Eric Verdin, president of the Buck Institute on Aging in Novato, Ca., which has received nearly $35 million from CIRM.
“It would be a catastrophe for California if people say CIRM did not do what it was expected to do. They’ve built the foundation for the field and attracted people from around the world — you can’t just now pull the plug.”

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