The California stem cell research agency is at risk of losing its identity. Back in the fall of 2004, when voters were convinced to pass Proposition 71, creating the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), we were told that the new agency and the work it would fund would lead to cures and an economic boom. Since then, the hyped potential of embryonic stem cell research has cooled a bit, and new techniques to derive fully potent stem cells without embryo destruction have been discovered. And it now appears clear that the next US president will lift the federal funding restrictions on using human embryos for stem cell research. Together, these developments call into question the relevance of a multi-billion dollar state-level set-aside, particular as California reels from debt.
Of all the claims of the Proposition 71 campaign, its lavish economic argument was undermined most rapidly. For example, in the campaign's original analysis [PDF], the state would receive up to $1.1 billion in revenue from successful developments, and on top of that, California's share of royalties and licensing would be streaming in before the agency's bond payments start in 2010. Although that was a fantasy in 2004, such an optimistic forecast appears even more unrealistic now, considering that the first clinical trials for a potential embryonic stem cell therapy - which were in the pipeline long before CIRM - will not commence until next year, at the soonest. To top it off, Robert Klein, Proposition 71's author and campaign chair, was caught in 2005 misleading the voters [PDF, page 9] over whether such revenues were even possible. Since then, other critics have acknowledged that the research advocatesí financial analysis was unrealistic at best (1, 2, 3, 4)
Now, the leadership of the CIRM has commissioned a new economic report. While its results will certainly be more tempered in the absence of an electoral campaign, it will be authored by the same consulting group used in 2004 by the campaign. My suspicion is that it is being prepared to be a defense against any potential legislative threats to CIRMís state funds. Unfortunately for CIRM, any realistic economic analysis may not be an effective shield in Sacramento during a period of drastic budget cuts. What's more, by reviving past controversy, revisiting the economic argument may backfire. Sometimes it is better to let sleeping dogs lie.
Previously on Biopolitical Times:
Posted in California, Jesse Reynolds's Blog Posts, Patents & Other IP, Stem Cell Research
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