Wall Street Journal Looks at Stem Cell Institute Issues
The Wall Street Journal on Tuesday examined the first eight months of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, "one of the most peculiar and largely unaccountable government research agencies in the country."
CIRM, which has a mission of funding $300 million annually toward stem cell research, has "fueled varying degrees of resistance from both opponents and supporters of stem cell research," according to the Journal.
For instance, the institute's primary source of funding -- $3 billion in state bonds provided under Proposition 71 -- has been stalled by a lawsuit challenging the institute's constitutionality. The plaintiffs in the suit, who are being represented by the Life Legal Defense Foundation, an antiabortion group, say that CIRM is unconstitutional because it is not under legislative control.
The state treasurer's office is considering a funding plan that would issue up to $200 million of "bond anticipation notes." However, the plan is an "enormous risk" to buyers of the notes because they could lose their investment if CIRM does not win the lawsuit, the Journal reports.
Independent Citizens' Oversight Committee Chair Robert Klein's effort to market $100 million of the notes directly to philanthropic organizations "has been slow to work," the Journal reports.
CIRM also is "beset with controversies" over its openness and accountability, the Journal reports. Klein has been criticized for hiring a lobbyist and other consultants, as well as for giving six-figure salaries to initial staff hires.
The institute also faces a constitutional amendment proposed by state Sen. Deborah Ortiz (D-Sacramento) that would "fill what [Ortiz] has called 'gaps' in the law that might undermine public confidence in the program." The threat of the amendment has prompted ICOC to begin drafting tighter regulations. The state Senate has agreed to hold off on the amendment. However, "[i]f lawmakers aren't satisfied" with the new regulations, the amendment could still appear on the ballot next year, the Journal reports (Hamilton, Wall Street Journal, 7/5).
CIRM Interim President Zach Hall last week gave a speech to "quietly tempe[r] the public's expectation" that the institute "will yield instant medical therapies and cures," Los Angeles Times columnist Michael Hiltzik reports.
Speaking at St. Francis Memorial Hospital in San Francisco, Hall said the 2004 Proposition 71 campaign "tapped into an amazing reservoir of hope among California voters, but we need to make people aware of how difficult it is to bring a new therapy to the market."
According to Hiltzik, "skepticism" about the medical benefits of stem cell research "was wholly absent" from the Proposition 71 campaign, and voters may be "shock[ed]" to learn that new treatments could be "20 or 30 years away (or may never come)."
Hall's "confidence" and "humility" are "the most encouraging sign yet" that CIRM will be a "credit" to California, rather than a "boondoggle," Hiltzik writes (Hiltzik, Los Angeles Times, 7/4).
The Contra Costa Times on Sunday published an interview with Klein and Hall. Hall was asked about expectations for CIRM-funded research over the next 10 years, the lawsuit that jeopardizes the institute's funding, and advances in stem cell research from South Korea (Kleffman, Contra Costa Times, 7/5).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.