California Institutions, Companies Line Up for Proposition 71 Funds
California research institutions "are starting to jockey for a share" of funding from Proposition 71 -- a bond initiative that was approved on the Nov. 2 statewide ballot that will fund stem cell research -- and starting to decide how to spend the cash infusion, the Sacramento Bee reports (Lau, Sacramento Bee, 11/8). Several biotechnology companies also have said they plan to apply for Proposition 71 funding, the Los Angeles Times reports (Gellene, Los Angeles Times, 11/7).
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. State analysts say the measure will cost a total of $6 billion, including interest. The measure passed by a vote of 59.1% to 40.9% (California Healthline, 11/4).
Before last week's election, deans at the University of California-Davis, which currently has "just a few faculty members working with stem cells of one type or another," met to discuss Proposition 71 funding proposals, according to the Bee.
Barry Klein, UC-Davis vice chancellor for research, said, "We're the only place with a veterinary center and a primate center; we have a law school, we have a graduate school of management, we have a medical school. When you put all these pieces together, we have a package of things to offer for the stem cell initiative."
The University of California-San Francisco -- which has a developmental and stem cell biology program and the co-discoverer of embryonic stem cells on its faculty -- will seek Proposition 71 money to "further broaden" current stem cell research efforts and integrate stem cell research into other areas, such as research into treatments for cancer, neurological disease, cardiovascular disease and diabetes, according to the Bee (Sacramento Bee, 11/8).
Palo Alto-based StemCells officials have said they will apply for Proposition 71 funding, and Massachusetts-based Advanced Cell Technology officials said the company would open a laboratory in California to qualify for funding. Robert Lanza, ACT medical director, said three different investors have "expressed interest in backing the company's efforts to set up shop in California (Los Angeles Times, 11/7).
Theo Palmer, a neuroscientist at Stanford University, said Proposition 71 funding could be wasted if researchers obtain grants for projects not directly related to stem cell research. He recommended bringing in "expertise from outside of California that is not conflicted" to avoid misspending the money (Sacramento Bee, 11/8).
The Times reports that venture capitalist Kurt von Emster, a partner with MPM Capital, said stem cell companies are a "risky investment" and could end up like "so-called genomic companies" that formed in response to the federal effort to crack the human genetic code but have not produced what Emster described as "the value creation that was expected" (Los Angeles Times, 11/7).
Approval of Proposition 71 has triggered worries in other states that have invested 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 (California Healthline, 11/4).
The "most immediate effect" of the initiative likely will be a "westward movement of researchers hoping to tap into the vast pool of new research dollars," according to the Times.
However, some biotechnology officials in Massachusetts said that "the funds in California could dry up," according to the Times. Vicki Greene, spokesperson for Massachusetts Biotechnology Council, said any scientist moving from Massachusetts to California for a stem cell research position is "leaving prematurely" (Los Angeles Times, 11/7).
However, Ira Black, a neuroscientist and founding director of the Stem Cell Institute of New Jersey, said Proposition 71 will complement, not compete with, stem cell research efforts in the state (McCullough, Philadelphia Inquirer, 11/7).
Other states could follow California's example if it successfully draws in "significant financial investment" as a result of Proposition 71, the Denver Post reports.
Carrie Gordon Earll, of Focus on the Family, said the approval of Proposition 71 could be "just what the U.S. Senate needs to get a cloning bill passed, a ban on all cloning" (Mulkern, Denver Post, 11/7).
State Controller Steve Westly (D) on Friday appointed Philip Pizzo, dean of the Stanford University School of Medicine, as the first member of the 29-member Independent Citizens Oversight Committee created by Proposition 71, the San Francisco Chronicle reports (Hall, San Francisco Chronicle, 11/6).
The committee, whose members must be named within 40 days, will oversee the California Center for Regenerative Medicine, an agency established by Proposition 71 to administer grants. 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. The committee must meet within 45 days to choose its top two officers and name the agency's president (California Healthline, 11/4).
In a statement, Westly called Pizzo "a world-recognized leader in medicine and biomedical research."
Pizzo, 59, said he will ensure that "the most appropriate infrastructure is put into place, the best science supported and the best people brought into the field."
Francine Coeytaux, founder of the Pacific Institute for Women's Health, said a potential conflict of interest exists with Pizzo's appointment because Stanford and its faculty scientists likely will "be among the prime recipients of the new grant money," according to the Chronicle.
Westly will name four other members to the panel. Once the entire committee is named, members will select a staff and decide where offices and meeting spots will be located (San Francisco Chronicle, 11/6).
KQED's "The California Report" on Monday is scheduled to include a report on a two-day forum at Stanford University on the potential impact of Proposition 71. Guests on the program are scheduled to include Los Angeles Times reporter Megan Garvey (Shafer, "The California Report," KQED, 11/8). The complete segment will be available online in RealPlayer after the broadcast.
In addition, the program on Friday examined the potential impact that the results for Propositions 71, 72 and 63 could have on health care. Guests on the program included Barbara Feder Ostrov, health reporter for the San Jose Mercury News, and Alan Garber, founding director of the Stanford Center for Health Policy (Shafer, "The California Report," KQED, 11/5). The complete segment is available online in RealPlayer.