California’s stem cell institute moving forward despite snags

The state’s newly created stem cell institute is moving forward with its voter-approved mandate to finance stem-cell research in California, though a final conclusion to its legal battles isn’t expected until 2007, according to the institute’s annual report, released Monday.

Established through a ballot initiative that passed in November 2004, the San Francisco-based California Institute for Regenerative Medicine has spent it first full year of existence formalizing its regulatory and administrative infrastructure, defending itself in court, creating a scientific strategic plan to guide its funding decisions, establishing intellectual property terms and getting the ball rolling on funding the fledgling fields of stem cell science and research.

Financing this forward movement has been tricky, since the $300 million a year in bond funding the stem cell institute is slated to receive has been held back due to ongoing litigation.

In April, a state judge rejected lawsuits challenging the stem cell act’s constitutionality, but the subsequent legal appeal keeps the funding entangled.

CIRM spokesman Dale Carlson said the legal limbo is not stalling the work of the agency.

“In 2007, we’ll be awarding the first research grants, which is very important, and the first facilities grants, and with a little luck, we’ll do our first public bond offering,” Carlson said.

Interim funding was provided in the last year, however, from private philanthropic foundations — which purchased $45 million in bond anticipation notes — and from Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who authorized a $150 million state loan to the stem cell agency.

Up to $110 million could be awarded next year under two separate grant programs, with some of the money awarded as early as February.

The agency is also to be commended for creating a strategic plan in 2006 that will guide spending decisions for the next 10 years, said John Simpson, the stem cell project director for The Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, a watchdog organization.

The agency fell short, however, according to Simpson, by not establishing more rules that would have guaranteed Californians affordable access to any cures or therapies developed by entities — including for-profit organizations — that receive the state funding.

beslinger@examiner.com

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