Wednesday, February 05, 2020

$5.5 Billion California Stem Cell Initiative Moving Quickly to Qualify for November Ballot

The effort to place a $5.5 billion stem cell research initiative on the November ballot hit a key milestone this week, chalking up at least 25 percent of the signatures needed. 

In an interview yesterday with the California Stem Cell Report, Robert Klein, chairman and founder of Americans for Cures, said that he expects to have about one million signatures in hand by the end of April. 

To be be placed before voters, the initiative must have valid signatures from 623,212 voters.  To achieve that number, many more signatures are gathered because a number of them are disqualified by elections officials. The deadline for signatures for the measure is June 15.

Klein sounded optimistic about the pace of the signature-gathering effort. He said it was running slightly ahead of 2004 when he led the effort for the ballot measure that created the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), as the stem cell agency is formally known. 

"We're gaining momentum actually," Klein said in a phone interview. 

CIRM needs a major cash infusion this year because it is running out of money. The agency was provided with $3 billion in bond funding by voters 15 years ago. It is now down to $27 million for research awards. 

Klein sent a letter Feb. 1 to the California secretary of state, the state's top election official, declaring that the effort had acquired at least 25 percent of the signatures needed. The milestone triggers legislative hearings on the initiative. 

The hearing or hearings must be held no later than 131 days before the Nov. 3 election. The legislature cannot alter the proposal, but it can offer its own version. Supporters of a proposed measure can also withdraw it. 

"This means the legislature can offer alternative legislation as a compromise in an effort to convince petitioners to withdraw certified initiatives," according to Ballotpedia. 

Klein declined to discuss specific costs of the signature gathering effort. However, it is largely done in California through firms that are paid by a measure's supporters. In 2018, the average cost of a signature was about $6.00 and ran as high as about $9.00, according to Ballotpedia.  The average total cost in 2018 was $2.6 million for qualifying an initiative. 

Klein is a real estate developer based in Palo Alto. He directed the writing of both the original initiative and the latest one and was the agency's first chairman. Americans for Cures is the stem cell advocacy group that he founded. 

(The information on costs of signature gathering was not contained in an earlier version of this item.)


  1. Anonymous11:14 AM

    It would seem that the current administration (and potentially for the next 5 years) has reverted to the “Bush Policies” which were the impetus for CIRM in the first place -- NIH funding for creation of embryonic stem cells is not allowed. I haven’t seen this get much publicity, but it would seem to strengthen the case for renewed CIRM funding.

    The Further Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2020 (Public Law 116-94), signed into law on December 20, 2019, provides funding to NIH for the fiscal year ending September 30, 2020. The intent of this notice is to provide current requirements outlined in the following statutory provisions that limits or conditions the use of funds on NIH grant, cooperative agreement, and contract awards for FY 2020.

    (7) Ban on Funding of Human Embryo Research (Section 508)

    (a) None of the funds made available in this Act may be used for— (1) the creation of a human embryo or embryos for research purposes; or (2) research in which a human embryo or embryos are destroyed, discarded, or knowingly subjected to risk of injury or death greater than that allowed for research on fetuses in utero under 45 CFR 46.204(b) and section 498

  2. Re this comment on federal funding and hESC research, I think it is a reasonable possibility at some point that Trump will tighten restrictions beyond the language in question as he perceives the need to shore up his base with fundamentalists.

    However, the California Stem Cell Report queried Hank Greeley, director of the Stanford Center for Law and the Biosciences, about the NIH language. He said, "This just looks like Dicker/Wicker, as it has been worded, more or less, since 1995. The Clinton/Bush/Obama interpretation - fed funds can’t derive hESC lines but can be used for research on lines so derived - seems to me still in effect. (Fetal tissue, on the other hand, is a different matter with the Trump Admin.)"

    Thanks to both Greeley and the author of the comment.


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