Friday, October 16, 2020

Prop. 14 News Coverage: The 'Nuanced Track Record' of the California Stem Cell Agency

California's $3 billion stem cell agency, which is facing a life-and-death test on this fall's ballot, was described this week as chalking up a "nuanced track record" in an article carried by the online news service CalMatters. 

The article recounted the history of the agency since 2004, when it was created by a ballot initiative, Proposition 71. Today, the agency is running out of money and hopes voters will approve Proposition 14, a $5.5 billion ballot measure that also makes extensive changes in the scope of the agency. Without substantial funding, it will begin closing its doors this winter. 

CalMatters is a nonpartisan and nonprofit online news site devoted to state government and politics. The piece by Barbara Feder Ostrov said,

"This time, embryonic stem cell research is in a much different place, with federal funding no longer blocked and more funding from the biotech industry.

"Voters will want to consider what California’s previous investment in stem cell research has accomplished. It’s a nuanced track record.

"While many scientific experts agree that Prop. 71 (of 2004) was a 'bold social innovation' that successfully bolstered emerging stem cell research, some critics argue that the institute’s grantmaking was plagued by conflicts of interest and did not live up to the promises of miracle cures that Prop. 71’s supporters made years ago. Although the agency is funded with state money, it’s overseen by its own board and not by the California governor or lawmakers."

The "social innovation" comment was contained in a 2012 blue-ribbon study of the agency, commissioned by the agency itself for $700,000. The study also said that the agency has substantial built-in conflicts of interest on the governing board of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), as the agency is officially known. 

The California Stem Cell Report last month performed an analysis of CIRM awards that showed that 79 percent of the $2.7 billion in grants has gone to institutions that are linked to members of its governing board. 

Ostrov's article additionally said, 

"A June 2020 analysis by University of Southern California health policy researchers estimated that taxpayers’ initial $3 billion investment in the research institute helped create more than 50,000 jobs and generated $10 billion for the state’s economy."

The stem cell agency commissioned the report at a cost of $206,000.

Ostrov noted substantial opposition in editorials in California newspapers. 

"The editorial boards of some of California’s biggest newspapers...have opposed the measure, including the Los Angeles Times, the Orange County Register, the San Francisco Chronicle and the San Jose Mercury News/East Bay Times. The Fresno BeeModesto Bee, and San Luis Obispo Tribune newspaper editorial boards support Prop. 14." 


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.

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