Wednesday, October 09, 2019

'Handsome Dividend' -- California Stem Cell Agency and Its Economic Impact on the Golden State

This video was produced by Forty Seven, Inc., a firm in which California's stem cell agency has invested more than $15 million

California’s stem cell research program has had a “major impact” on the state’s economy, generating billions in sales revenue and creating tens of thousands of new jobs, according to a study released today.

Commissioned by the $3 billion state stem cell agency, the report comes as the program is hitting a difficult financial patch. Known officially as the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), the agency expects to run out of money for new awards by end of this month. CIRM is hoping that voters will refinance it with $5.5 billion via a ballot initiative in November 2020.

The 84-page study is expected to serve as a rebuttal to critics who have called the nearly 15-year-old agency a boondoggle. The report said, 
“The state’s investment in (the agency) has paid handsome dividends in terms of output, employment and tax revenues for California."
Adam Rose, USC photo
Dan Wei, USC photo
The study and a yet-to-be released companion report were commissioned at a cost of $206,000 by the agency. The economic study was prepared by Dan Wei and Adam Rose of the Price School of Public Policy at the University of Southern California

Maria Millan, CEO and president of CIRM, said in a news release that the study reflects the agency's role in building a stem cell "ecosystem" in the Golden State. 

Beyond CIRM's medical and scientific work, she said that the agency is "promoting economic growth in California  by attracting scientific talent and additional capital, and by creating an environment that supports the development of businesses and commercial enterprises in the state."

The report summarized CIRM's economic impact in four points. 
  • "$10.7 billion of additional gross output (sales revenue)
  • "$641.3 million of additional state/local tax revenues
  • "$726.6 million of additional federal tax revenues
  • "56,549 additional full-time equivalent jobs, half of which offer salaries considerably higher than the state average."
CIRM's news release on the report characterized the study as "independent." CIRM said it showed that the agency's efforts had a "major impact" on the state's overall economy, which totalled $3 trillion in 2017. 

The agency cited the assistance it has provided to create companies that ultimately will make CIRM-financed therapies available to the public at large.

While the agency's spending has not yet led to a widely available therapy, it is backing 56 clinical trials, which is the last stage before a treatment can be approved for widespread use. About 86 percent of clinical trials fail to result in a product, according to 2018 figures.

As an example of a fruitful collaboration, the agency cited Orchard Therapeutics of the United Kingdom, which plans to seek to qualify soon for speedier federal approval of its treatment for a version of  "bubble boy syndrome," a fatal immune deficiency. CIRM has awarded the firm $8.5 million.

The treatment was developed by Donald Kohn at UCLA with the help of $52 million in CIRM cash During clinical trials, it has saved the lives of more than 50 babies. Kohn said in a statement,
"I think one of the greatest strengths of CIRM has been their focus on development of new stem cell therapies that can become real medicines."
Orchard has offices in the San Francisco Bay area and plans to build a 150,000-square-foot manufacturing facility in Fremont. 

Also cited as an example was a company called Forty Seven, Inc., of Menlo Park, Ca., which is developing cancer therapies. Mark Chao, founder of the firm, said CIRM's support was "instrumental to our early successes."

The economic study also explored the "deal flow" funding that has aided commercialization of research. The study said it is expected that 
"...CIRM's past and current funding will attract increasing amounts of industry investment and lead to additional spending injections into the California economic in the years to come."
The companion report to today's economic study involves "health dividends" provided by the agency. That report is expected to be released next week. 

The agency has commissioned other economic studies in the past including one in 2012 that also lauded the agency. The request for proposals to perform that 2012 study said it must execute "a vibrant and aggressive strategy to support the goals and initiatives of CIRM.” 

Queried by the California Stem Cell Report, Kevin McCormack, a spokesman for CIRM, said four enterprises were solicited to develop this year's study. Three declined. The contract for the latest study stipulated that USC had control of the content. The latest study also laid out the methodology in considerable detail, something missing from the 2012 report. 

Below is a May 31, 2019, 58-second video of the president of Orchard, Mark Rothera, discussing the company's work. More brief, 2019 videos of Rothera from same interview sequence can be found hereherehere and here. The videos were taken by the Alliance for Regenerative Medicine

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