Friday, December 18, 2020

Speak Up: Time to Help Shape California's $12 Billion Stem Cell Future

One of the excellent features of California's $12 billion stem cell program has little to do directly with science. The feature does not deal with petri dishes, genetic manipulation or microscopes.

It has a lot to do, however, with the stem cell agency's responsiveness to the public. It involves the persons behind the test tubes and even the Big Pharma companies that are the key to bringing stem cell therapies into widespread use. 

What we are talking about is fundamental to building trust in the California Institute of Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), as the stem cell agency is officially known, and whether CIRM can sustain itself beyond the date when its money runs out again in a decade or so. 

On the surface, it's a simple matter: the ability of the public, scientists and businesses to weigh in on how CIRM spends its next $5.5 billion -- the amount that the people of California are borrowing to pay for the agency's forays. 

Next Monday represents a first-rate opportunity for the public and the myriad interested parties to show up and speak up, both to the board that governs CIRM and its top executives. Some of the matters on the table at Monday's CIRM directors' meeting are, in one form or another:

  • Should CIRM spend $100 million for clinical work over the next six months and only $22 million on basic research? 
  • Should it change its diversity requirements to require more awards to a more diverse group of scientists?
  • Should it require wider research data sharing to improve the quality of work across the field or should it cosset CIRM-financed findings to shield intellectual property?
  • How should the state spend up to $155 million to improve stem cell treatment affordability and patient access to therapies and clinical trials? Does such an effort actually represent an unnecessary subsidy to the businesses involved?

Anybody who desires to do so can participate in the CIRM board meeting, which will be online. Questions can be asked. Suggestions can be made. Complaints can be aired. 

The session represents the first big step into CIRM's new world of Proposition 14, the ballot initiative the provided the new, $5.5 billion in bond funding. The measure  also set CIRM on a wider course that offers fresh opportunities that are not without challenges.  

Deciding how to spend $5.5 billion is not a minor matter. It is tiny, however, compared to the dense processes used by another government research organization -- the 27 branches of the National Institutes of Health and their multitude of advisory bodies. In contrast, California's stem cell program is wide open, transparent and accessible to the people most affected. 

What happens beginning Monday and over the next year will fundamentally shape the success or failure of California's stem cell program, the largest such state effort in the nation and the first in California's history. 

CIRM stands open to influence -- for better or worse -- by patients, the general public, researchers and companies that have received nearly $3 billion over the last 16 years. It is now up to all those folks and more to speak up and help CIRM in its efforts to bring to market the much-heralded stem cell therapies and to be a first-rate steward of the people's money. Plus, speaking out is in the best personal and professional interests of those involved.

The agenda for Monday's meeting contains instructions for participating in the online meeting. Written comments are always useful as well as oral presentations. Written material can provide needed backup for the briefer oral comments and are directly in front of CIRM directors and staff. Comments should be emailed to

The session starts at 9 a.m. PST Monday. Don't miss an opportunity to help shape the course of California's program to cure untreatable diseases and to lead the way globally on stem cell research. 

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