Saturday, October 10, 2020

LA Times Runs Down the Middle in News Report on $5.5 Billion Stem Cell Ballot Initiative

California's largest circulation newspaper, the Los Angeles Times, this week published an overview of the state's $5.5 billion stem cell ballot measure that was headlined:

"With Prop. 14, California voters will be asked for more borrowing to keep stem cell research going"

The article by Melody Gutierrez played the issues pretty much down the middle. However, backers of the measure, Proposition 14, likely are not happy with the headline. They would have preferred one that focused on how they think the measure would save lives. 

The ballot initiative is aimed at refinancing the state stem cell agency, known officially as the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) and which will be closing its doors this winter because it is running out of money. The measure would also substantially widen CIRM's scope

The Times piece article carries more weight than most news pieces on the proposal because of the Times' reach and reputation. The newspaper claims a daily readership of 1.3 million and a combined print and online local weekly audience of 4.6 million.

The article said,
"Proposition 14 has no organized opposition and, so far, no one willing to put their money into fighting it — but the measure does have critics. Newspaper editorial boards, including those at the Los Angeles Times and San Francisco Chronicle, have opposed it. Opponents include CIRM board member Jeff Sheehy, who says the state shouldn’t take on new debt while facing a pandemic-induced deficit and that medical advances attributed to the previous stem cell bond have been overstated."
The Times piece captured a bit of stem cell history:
"The campaign to pass the 2004 ballot measure told voters that the bond would save millions of lives and cut healthcare costs by billions. Critics say that’s not been the case to date, although supporters of this year’s measure note that they never intended those results within 16 years."
It should be noted that the "never intended" remark from Klein's campaign reflects a rewrite of history. The 2004 campaign was much criticized for its hype and raising voter expectations that stem cell cures were right around the corner.

Gutierrez also touched on the problem of finding financing at risky stages of research, writing,
"Alzheimer’s disease researcher Dr. Larry Goldstein, who works at UC San Diego, said the state’s stem cell agency fills a void in critical grant funding. He said industry, venture capital and federal funding is available, but often goes toward research showing promising results in late-stage trials. He said money is needed, however, to move a scientific discovery to that point. That gap, which he said is referred to as the “valley of death” in research, has been filled by CIRM grants.

"'It was getting more and more difficult to fund novel, risky and creative scientific projects,' Goldstein said. 'CIRM has done a good job of funding parts of my research that were particularly risky that have led to a particular payoff.'"

 The Times also reported,

"Sheehy said he’s been dismayed by claims now being made by proponents of Proposition 14 that he said mischaracterize some achievements as being the direct result of CIRM funding when the agency’s role was limited. If a major drug was developed with CIRM’s funding, the state would receive a royalty, patent or licensing revenue. To date, the agency has received $462,433, a fraction of what voters were told the state would take in."

Gutierrez concluded, 

'"The state can’t just keep giving money to this forever,' Sheehy said. 'It was never meant to be a permanent thing. It was for a specific unmet need that doesn’t exist anymore.'"


Read all about California's stem cell agency, including Proposition 14,  in David Jensen's new book. Buy it on Amazon:  California's Great Stem Cell Experiment: Inside a $3 Billion Search for Stem Cell Cures. Click here for more information on the author.

1 comment:

  1. I would argue that CIRM has served its greatest purpose. I think I used the CIRM funding I received wisely, and when CIRM wouldn't fund me for clinical development of a cell replacement therapy for Parkinson's disease, I raised foundation and venture capital funding and founded a company to follow through. That was exactly the intention of Prop 71- not to hold our hands but to to give us the power to follow through by ourselves.


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