Wednesday, October 07, 2020

Head-to-Head on Proposition 14: 'Fatally Flawed,' Life-Saver or Both?

2012 CIRM video of Sandra Dillon (on right) and Catriona Jamieson of UC San Diego

Sandra Dillon says she owes her life to the California stem cell agency, and she wants California voters to give it $5.5 billion more to help save the lives of many more, including someone they love. 

Dillon made her comments in a piece carried last month in the San Diego Union-Tribune. Her article was paired with another commentary in the paper that strongly opposed Proposition 14 on this fall's ballot. It was written by Jeff Sheehy, a patient advocate member of the board of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), the official name of the stem cell agency.  

Together, Dillon's and Sheehy's commentaries capture the essence of the arguments for and against the ballot initiative and highlight what is at stake this fall. And that is the continued existence of the stem cell agency, which was created in 2004 by another ballot initiative that provided it with $3 billion in money borrowed by the state. That funding is all but gone. If voters reject Proposition 14, CIRM will begin closing its doors this winter. 

(The actual cost to taxpayers, it should be noted, is about $4 billion in the case of the 2004 measure and an estimated $7.8 billion for Proposition 14.)

When Dillon was 28, she was diagnosed with a rare form of blood cancer called myelofibrosis. She wrote in the San Diego paper, 

"Upon learning of my cancer diagnosis, I was left feeling helpless, afraid and searching for answers about how this disease would affect my everyday life, what I could do to fight it, and how much time I had left to live....

"It is because of California’s forward-looking leadership in passing Proposition 71 in 2004 — hoping to find treatments and cures for chronic diseases and illnesses — that has allowed me to still be here today." 

Dillon concluded,

"The passage of Proposition 71 helped save my life. It is unimaginable to think that Californians would vote to discontinue this amazing effort — I don’t know where I would be or what condition I would be in if it wasn’t for the investment Californians made nearly two decades ago."

Dillon's experimental therapy involved research by Catriona Jamieson of UC San Diego, who has received $17.3 million from the stem cell agency.

In the other commentary, Sheehy, who has served on the CIRM board since 2004 and was chairman of its science subcommittee, was deeply critical. He was the only member of the CIRM to votes against endorsing the measure. 

The California Stem Cell Report carried a piece last month summarizing what Sheehy had to say in his piece, which was headlined,  "Why Prop. 14 is unaffordable, unnecessary, fatally flawed and unsupportable."

But to refresh readers, Sheehy, whose article was solicited by the newspaper, said, 

"It must seem odd that someone who has spent countless hours over the last 15 years as a member of the governing board of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) would oppose Proposition 14, which seeks to provide $5.5 billion in new funding for the stem-cell agency. While I value CIRM and its work to date, Proposition 14 commits California to spending money it does not have — $7.8 billion including interest for research that is already well-funded. Plus, CIRM’s pre-existing flaws are actually exacerbated by new provisions in the measure."

"And after spending all of that money, not a single U.S. Federal and Drug Administration-approved product has materialized on which CIRM’s funding played an important role."

"Proposition 14 will add at least another $260 million a year in annual repayments. That means California taxpayers will be on the hook for $587 million a year for stem-cell research. Remember state imperatives such as education, health care and housing are not only chronically under-resourced but with a looming deficit, will be starved for funding because bonds must be repaid first. Cuts have already happened and more are likely on the way. Critical needs will go unfunded."

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