Recharging California’s Stem Cell Research Capacity

Image: Robert Klein is finalizing a ballot initiative that asks California voters to re-fund the state’s stem cell agency.


Cartherics CEO Alan Trounson discusses developments at the agency he headed from 2007-2014

Bob Klein is proposing to bring a second ballot initiative to Californian voters for another US$5.5 billion for stem cell research to power developments in regenerative medicine.

Klein is the real estate investment banker behind Proposition 71, the 2004 initiative that created the California Institute of Regenerative Medicine (CIRM). Now, he needs 623,000 signatures from Californians to get a new initiative on the ballot for the next State election in 2020 which coincides with the Federal election.

A majority of voters at the election need to vote for this proposition. If they do, the Californian Government must take it up. It is essentially a referendum on advancing US$5.5 billion to the State Agency to fund stem cell research.

Without the additional support the institute could fold by at the end of next year. CIRM currently has funding requests for US$88 million pending, but only US$33 million left to give out to scientists.

There are some changes from the last initiative which I led as President from 2007-2014. US$1.5 billion is dedicated to neurodegenerative diseases. As well, clinical trials need to be also be undertaken outside of the major University and Medical Research Institutions. This has been controversial within the CIRM board.

Will the initiative be successful if Klein is able to sort out the disagreements and then garner the required number of signatures? It is hard to know. Interest has waned in the media somewhat for cures arising from stem cell research as other fields are grabbing the headlines.

It is true that the time taken for discoveries to transit through clinical trials is longer than predicted. However, developments continue to evolve which may radically improve disease treatments, and scientists remain optimistic of these outcomes.

Immune and cell therapy is having very major impact on cancer therapy, and already mono-genetic diseases now have genuine cures. While the costs of therapy are high, the outcomes are incredible. If this work can be applied to conditions such as Parkinson’s Disease and diabetes, or even heart disease, it will be all worthwhile. This is certainly possible but not guaranteed.

Basic research must continue to be supported to enable better and more effective therapies to evolve. If the initiative maintains the support of basic research I will also remain optimistic that the revolution in regenerative will happen. We shall see.

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