Sunday, October 11, 2020

Proposition 14 Campaign Coverage: George Bush, 'Blatant Giveaway' and $5.5 Billion More

Northern California's respected KQED news site has aired an overview of Proposition 14, the far-reaching, $5.5 billion measure to continue funding of stem cell research by the state of California.

The piece by Danielle Venton covers a bit of the history of the state stem cell agency, the "debt" it owes to former President George Bush and the progress of the agency, known formally as the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM). Venton wrote,
"The pace of innovation has been slower than many hoped. As it turned out, grand discoveries were not around the corner, and to date there is no widespread stem cell treatment approved for the public. To date, CIRM has funded more than 64 trials directly and aided in 31 more. Not all have or will result in treatments.

"But despite the lack of a marquee cure like one for Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s, the agency has seen some notable triumphs."
Quoted by Venton were Jeff Sheehy, a member of the CIRM governing board; Melissa King, field operations manager for the campaign and executive director of the nonprofit Americans for Cures, and David Jensen, author of "California's Great Stem Cell Experiment" and publisher of this blog.

Proposition 14 would save CIRM from financial extinction. It is slated to begin closing its doors this winter as its original $3 billion in funding is running out. The agency was created by Proposition 71 of 2004, which raised high expectations of cures.  Venton wrote,
"Right now the state still owes about $1 billion toward the debt created by Proposition 71. If Proposition 14 passes, the yearly price tag to pay off the new bond would be about $260 million per year for about 30 years.

"Funding needs for stem cell research also are not as acute as they were back in 2004. The federal National Institutes of Health now funds some basic stem cell research, spending about $2 billion a year, with $321 million of that going toward human embryonic stem cell research. And private ventures, like nonprofits started by tech billionaires, are pouring more money into biotech."
Venton wrote,
"Proposition 14 makes it impossible for the state to use profits from its investment on, say, schools or other funding priorities. Instead, any royalties earned must be fed back into programs to make CIRM-funded treatments more affordable. 
"'What it does is it basically takes all of our returns that we get from this and gives it back to the pharmaceutical and biotech companies,' said Sheehy. 'It becomes just a blatant giveaway to these companies when we should be requiring access and requiring fair pricing.'"
King said that "CIRM fills a neglected funding need," Venton wrote.

"'The NIH (federal funding agency) does not fund clinical trials at nearly the rate that CIRM can and has been,' King said.

"She says that's important because of what she calls the 'Valley of Death,' where promising early-stage research frequently fails to translate into promising treatments that can be tested in clinical-stage research. (What works well in a test tube often does not work well in an organism.) This weeding-out process is costly but necessary. And it’s where CIRM focused a lot of its effort."

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