Tuesday, October 13, 2020

'Hobby Horse' to 'Stunning Progress:' Two Newspapers Look at California Stem Cell Program and the $5.5 Billion Prop. 14

Does California's stem cell research program, now facing a $5.5 billion referendum, represent one person's "personal hobby horse" or does it represent "stunning progress" in developing therapies and cures?

Those are two questions embodied in two articles in major Californa newspapers this week about Proposition 14. The ballot initiative would provide the billions for the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), as the state stem cell agency is officially known. 

CIRM is running out of money and will begin closing its doors this winter unless Proposition 14 is approved. In addition to the $5.5 billion, the measure sets a new and expanded course for the agency, which has yet to help finance a stem cell therapy that is widely available to the public after working on the matter for nearly 16 years. 

Lisa Krieger, writing in what the San Jose Mercury News called an "analysis," related a number of  CIRM achievements, ranging from providing more than $200 million in "elegant buildings" to familiar anecdotes about patients who have been helped in clinical trials at least partially supported by CIRM. 

She said, 

“'CIRM has supported some really superb research and researchers and built a powerful infrastructure,' said Robert Cook-Deegan of the School for the Future of Innovation in Society at Arizona State University. 'In a field where there aren’t as many other sources of funding, that’s almost certainly, in the long run, a good thing.'"

"This is stunning progress..." Krieger wrote. "Still, it falls far short of Proposition 71’s breathless rhetoric from the 2004 campaign."

In the Los Angeles Times, Michael Hiltzik, a business columnist and author of "Big Science," said Proposition 14 "is a perfect example of the drawbacks of allowing a public program to turn into one individual’s personal hobby horse."

Hiltzik said, 

"In this case, the individual is Robert Klein II, a Northern California real estate developer who drafted and promoted Proposition 71 of 2004, the $3-billion initiative that created the program formally known as the California Institute of Regenerative Medicine, or CIRM, and who led the program as chairman during its formative years. Klein has contributed more than $6.6 million to the initiative campaign.

"CIRM has funded much worthy scientific research. But it has struggled since its creation with the outsized expectations that Klein’s advertising campaign for Proposition 71 engendered — namely, that the program would yield 'cures' for conditions including Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and diabetes."

Hiltzik's comments were part of a longer roundup of his thoughts on the ballot propositions that face California voters this month. He said he would vote with "regret" against the measure and referenced a longer piece that he wrote last December dissecting Klein's ballot measure and the issues have troubled CIRM.

In it, he said that Proposition 14 "perpetuates many of the original measure’s flaws and makes some of them worse. 

"That’s dangerous, because although the measure could fuel the stem cell program for years to come, it might also prompt a repudiation by voters sensitive to its many imperfections. Such an outcome would be tragic for California and the advanced science already supported by CIRM." 

The Los Angeles Times claims about 1.3 million readers daily. The San Jose Mercury is part of a newspaper chain that circulates its articles widely in the San Francisco Bay area.

Krieger and Hiltzik both were around for the 2004 ballot campaign that created CIRM in 2004 through Proposition 71, another ballot measure crafted by Klein. It ran only 10,000 words. Proposition 14 contains about 17,000 words.

I should note that Proposition 14 is technically not a ballot referendum but a ballot initiative. However, the measure effectively serves as a referendum on CIRM's past and likely future performance.


To read more on CIRM, its performance and Proposition 14, see David Jensen's news book: California's Great Stem Cell Experiment: Inside a $3 Billion Search for Stem Cell Cures. Click here for more information on the author.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Search This Blog