Friday, November 01, 2019

$5.5 Billion, Stem Cell 'Handcuffs' in California? CIRM Directors Have Questions on Ballot Proposal

OAKLAND, Ca. -- Some directors of the California stem cell agency are less than pleased with aspects of a proposed, $5.5 billion ballot measure to save the program from financial extinction, including one longtime board member who said it would "handcuff"  the research effort.

A sometimes testy discussion of the initiative arose late in the board's meeting yesterday with a number of board members expressing reservations about provisions in the measure that were "not helpful."

"These are handcuffs," said Jeff Sheehy, who has served on the board of the agency since its inception in 2004. "The board has a look at this measure while it still can be changed."

Jonathan Thomas, chairman of the stem cell agency board, said he is calling a meeting of the board sometime in the week beginning Nov. 11 to discuss the ballot initiative.  The deadline for public comments to go state election officials is Nov. 12. Changes can be made up to Nov. 17.  (See here for how the process works.) 

Changes can only be made by the sponsor of the initiative, who is Robert Klein, a real estate investment banker who was the first chairman of the agency, formally known as the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM).  Klein is a real estate investment banker and the founder and chairman of Americans for Cures, a stem cell advocacy group.

CIRM has only $27 million left for new awards out of the $3 billion that voters provided for it in 2004. However, those funds are reserved for a federal-state sickle cell program. Efforts to raise significant private funds have been unsuccessful.
The proposed ballot measure goes well beyond simple re-funding of the 15-year-old program. It would alter the structure of the board, basically defer control of its conflict of interest rules to a national scientific organization, create new programs, expand the scope of its work and more.

CIRM Director Steve Juelsgaard said the proposal would make "significant changes" including some that "frankly I don't think are very helpful."

On Wednesday, prior to yesterday's meeting, Sheehy' released a 3,300-word critique of the measure that was published by the California Stem Cell Report. He raised his concerns again yesterday directly with CIRM's governing board after board chairman Thomas offered a schedule for revising the agency's strategic plan sometime next year.

The CIRM board's sometimes heated discussion did not go into all of the measure's specifics. It focused primarily on whether the board should have an additional meeting on the matter and take a formal position. Several members of the board said they wanted to know more about the proposal and expressed concern about unspecified aspects of the measure.

Sheehy told the 29-member board that it would be "an abdication of our responsibility" if the board fails to weigh in on the proposal when it still can be changed. He said the initiative was drawn up in private in a process that was not publicly disclosed.

Art Torres, vice chairman of the board and former state legislator, expressed reservations about bringing the proposal before CIRM directors in a public session. He said that the state had a formal process for filing comments that could be used by concerned board members.

Some members of the board said a formal position by the board could have considerable weight in generating needed changes.. Some, however, were concerned that board criticism of initiative at this point could be used by opponents in the ballot campaign next year even if the board ultimately endorsed measure.

CIRM is in the process of setting a date and time for its review of the ballot measure. It is scheduled to be a telephonic meeting that would have multiple public remote locations. It would also be available on the Internet with public participation access. The California Stem Cell Report will report the time and date of the meeting when it is available and is asking Klein for his comments as well.


  1. Anonymous7:56 AM

    The board is its own worse enemy. My advice: Get it together or go down.

  2. The problem is that board members don't want to take the time and attention to read through it. So, I suggest that they just do a read-aloud while the whole board is paying attention. They should at least read Jeff Sheehy's comments.