Thursday, September 26, 2019

Pluses and Minuses: The Cases For and Against $5.5 Billion More for California's Stem Cell Agency

BURLINGAME, Ca. -- It was a case of dueling op-ed arguments -- one describing the state's $3 billion stem cell agency as a waste of money and the other touting its success and its current and future impact on human lives.

The articles appeared online on the web site of the San Diego Union-Tribune on the eve of a daylong conference here to lay out possibilities for the agency over the next several years. 

The articles and the meeting come at a critical point for the agency, known formally as the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM). The nearly 15-year-old enterprise expects to run out of cash for new awards this year. It is hoping for a $5.5 billion infusion in November 2020 if California voters approve another bond measure for the agency.

The op-ed articles embodied many of the arguments -- pro and con -- that are likely to surface in the ballot measure campaign next year, a campaign that is expected to cost its supporters $50 million. 

In the San Diego newspaper, the case for giving the agency more billions was made by Larry Goldstein, a professor at UC San Diego; Aileen Anderson, a professor at UC Irvine, and Malin Burnham, chairman of the Burnham FoundationThe case against CIRM was made by state Sen. John Moorlach, R-Costa Mesa.

Moorlach argued that the agency has "produced close to no results." He cited articles in the journal Nature and the San Francisco Chronicle as evidence. Moorlach called CIRM a "dry hole." He wrote.
"Not only was the $3 billion for the research a bust, but taxpayers will be paying interest on the principal until 2039. California Treasurer Fiona Ma’s office told me the cost of the interest on the $2.59 billion of principal already spent will be $836.6 million. Interest rates lower than anticipated in 2004 kept that below the original $3 billion estimate."
Goldstein and his co-authors argued that more than 50 children have had their lives "given back" as the result of clinical trials funded by CIRM. They said, 
"CIRM funding has established an impressive pipeline of new stem cell-based therapies being tested in 78 human trials directly funded by CIRM or based on CIRM-funded research. CIRM funding has also led to over 3000 published medical discoveries." 
They continued, 
"In 2020, Californians can continue their commitment to the best forms of stem cell research and therapy development. While there are no guarantees in medical research, if prior achievement is any indication, the next initiative will push many breakthrough therapies across the finish line. Considering the potential benefits to Californians and the opportunities to improve lives and alleviate suffering, there is little to lose, and an incredible amount to gain."

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