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Talk of Pain at California Stem Cell Agency

Talk of Pain at California Stem Cell Agency

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Published by DavidJensen
This article appeared May 20, 2012, in The Sacramento Bee. It was uploaded by the author, David Jensen.
This article appeared May 20, 2012, in The Sacramento Bee. It was uploaded by the author, David Jensen.

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Categories:Types, Research, Science
Published by: DavidJensen on May 20, 2012
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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In the News: Stem cell cash will run out – then what?
By David JensenThey're talking about pain at the $3 billionCaliforniastem cell agency. And mortality. But not the endof life as you and I know it.They're talking about the pain that comes from cutting off millions of dollars for scientists. They'retalking about what will happen when the state stops borrowing money to financestem cell researcha final-breath moment that arrives in about five years.One might think that this is the natural order of business nowadays inCalifornia.However, the state'sstem cell agency has been the great exception during these troubled financial times.Thanks toProposition 71,the agency is well shielded from the state's fiscal typhoons. The 2004 ballotinitiative that created theCaliforniaInstitute forRegenerative Medicine,orCIRMas the agency is formally known, also provided a direct stream of state bond cash. The governor and lawmakers cannotlegally get their fingers onCIRM'smoney.But there are limits. When the bond authorization runs out,CIRM will need more cash. One remotepossibility is voter approval of more bonds. The agency, however, is primarily discussing raisingmoney privately and establishing a nonprofit organization. All this and more will be on the table – in one form or another – at a meeting Thursday of theCIRM board. It has handed out $1.3 billion so far and is expected to award another $95 million ingrants this week. It has only $836 million left for grants. I say "only" because even $836 million goesonly so far when the agency ladles out grants in $240 million dollops, as is expected in July.In a strategic planning document,Ellen Feigal,CIRM'ssenior vice president for research and development, has laid out its future direction. She said that for the first timeCIRM would overtly create 20 programs, with outside investment, that focus on products. Another five-year goal wouldexplicitly call for financing at least 10 therapies in early-phase clinical trials, affecting at least fivediseases.In contrast to the Proposition 71 campaign rhetoric,CIRM'sstrategic plan acknowledges thatdeveloping therapies takes a very long time, often decades.CIRM'ssharper focus is not without fiscal pain. One scenario would mean a $75 million cut in trainingand shared lab programs – cash that helps to finance researchers and that benefits the many institutions that have representation on theCIRMboard.CIRM'schanging priorities create "stark tension," said one board member,Michael Friedman,CEO of  the City of Hopein the Los Angeles area, in January. "We're going to have to make some really painfuland difficult decisions," he told directors.CIRM'ssuccess – or lack of it – will play a critical role in its future finances, whether they are based onanother bond measure or private support. Its plan calls for establishment of a platform for others touse to pursueCIRM'smission. That includes creating biotech companies and recruitment of additional firms. It also means the possible creation of a nonprofit venture philanthropy fund. To dothat, the agency needs a solid plan with solid achievements to lure in the hundreds of millions of dollars necessary to continue its efforts at anything close to their current level.

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