Approval of Measure To Fund Stem Cell Research Examined
The approval on Tuesday of Proposition 71, a bond initiative on the Nov. 2 statewide ballot that will fund stem cell research, shows California residents' "deeply rooted optimism about science," and the outcome takes on "added significance with the re-election of President Bush and the gains made by Republicans in both houses of Congress," the Los Angeles Times reports (Garvey, Los Angeles Times, 11/4).
Under Proposition 71, the state will issue bonds to raise an average of $295 million annually over a decade to promote stem cell research and provide funds for a new stem cell research center, as well as grants and loans for laboratory projects at other colleges. State analysts say the measure will cost a total of $6 billion, including interest (California Healthline, 11/3). The measure passed by a vote of 59.1% to 40.9% (Secretary of State Web site).
The measure was put on the ballot "to repudiate" the Bush administration's restriction in 2001 of federal funding for embryonic stem cell research, according to the Los Angeles Times.
The first step toward administering the grants is establishing the California Center for Regenerative Medicine, which then must establish guidelines on ethics of the research, how the state would share in potential patents and how any discoveries financed with public funds would be shared among scientists. An immediate $3 million loan from the state treasury will be used to launch the agency (Los Angeles Times, 11/4).
It is not clear where the institute might be headquartered, and analysts expect several research facilities will be established in different areas of the state, likely near major medical centers, the San Francisco Chronicle reports (Hall, San Francisco Chronicle, 11/4).
The 29-member Independent Citizen's Oversight Committee, whose members must be named within 40 days, will oversee the agency, which will set its own auditing and conflict-of-interest rules (Los Angeles Times, 11/4). The five University of California campuses with medical schools are entitled to representation on the board, and the governor and other state officials will make the remaining appointments (Hall, San Francisco Chronicle, 11/4).
The committee must meet within 45 days to choose its top two officers and name the agency's president, the Sacramento Bee reports (Mecoy, Sacramento Bee, 11/4).
According to the Los Angeles Times, the University of California is expected to receive "a large portion" of the grant money, and university officials already have "targeted researchers in other states they hope to entice to California."
Private institutions, including Stanford University, also could "be in a strong position" to receive grants, the Los Angeles Times reports (Los Angeles Times, 11/4).
Although the majority of funding will go to research institutions, companies also are eligible for Proposition 71 grants (Somers, San Diego Union Tribune, 11/4).
Proposition 71 "marks the first significant break" from the nationwide reliance on NIH for medical research funding, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Leaders of California's biotechnology industry disagreed on how quickly the new funding could increase business, with some saying the impact could be "almost immediate" and others saying it could be years until new companies are formed, according to the Los Angeles Times (Los Angeles Times, 11/4).
However, Renee Reijo Pera, a University of California-San Francisco geneticist, said biotechnology companies and stem cell research groups could begin hiring more scientists and staff, building new laboratories and research centers and purchasing supplies in the near future, according to the Contra Costa Times (Mason, Contra Costa Times, 11/4).
Shares of several biotechnology firms in California that conduct stem cell research dropped Wednesday when Bush won re-election, despite the passage of Proposition 71, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. According to the Chronicle, share prices of such companies had risen in the weeks before the election because former Democratic presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry (Mass.) said he would have increased federal funding for stem cell research if elected.
Experts said that although Proposition 71 provides funding for stem cell research that is unavailable from the federal government, the measure will not "eliminate other barriers that may continue to slow the progress," such as "tangles over patent rights and the reluctance of venture capitalists to invest in such early-stage research," according to the Chronicle (Tansey, San Francisco Chronicle, 11/4).
In addition, because the field is still in its "infancy," technologies that would form the basis of potential cures are "several years off," and "actual cures" could take a "decade or more" to produce, according to the Contra Costa Times (Contra Costa Times, 11/4).
Ralph de Vere White, director of the University of California-Davis Cancer Center, said officials must ensure that the grants be used to produce a long-term benefit, according to the Chronicle (Hall, San Francisco Chronicle, 11/4).
"[California] is going to be the stem cell center of the world, not just the country," Evan Snyder, director of the stem cell biology program at the Burnham Institute, said (Pollack, New York Times, 11/4).
"California is going to be spending more on embryonic stem cell research than any government worldwide," Sean Tipton of the Coalition for the Advancement of Medical Research said (Weise/Vergano, USA Today, 11/4).
"It's a huge win for California science and is going to make California the mecca for stem cell research," George Daley, a stem cell researcher at Harvard University, said, adding, "I'm jealous" (Contra Costa Times, 11/4).
However, approval of Proposition 71 has "triggered worries" in other states that "have staked a claim to prominence in stem cell research," such as Massachusetts, where Harvard University launched a stem cell institute in April, and New Jersey, which started a stem cell initiative this year using $6.5 million in initial public money, the Boston Globe reports (Cook, Boston Globe, 11/4).
Additional information on Proposition 71 is available online.