Should state stem cell agency get more public funds?

In a new report, the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, the state’s $3 billion stem cell agency, is touting itself as a generator of jobs and revenue. Californians should take this report as a plea for more public funding, and a confession that CIRM is a bust at its original mission.

That would be to cure Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and a host of other diseases through embryonic stem cell research. CIRM has now been around for more than six years, but a ballpark figure for the number of cures, therapies and medical-scientific advances it has produced is zero.

The state agency played no role in recent breakthroughs such as the construction of a new windpipe for a Colombian woman. Likewise, it played no role in the restoration of sight achieved by Italian researchers. These major advances were all the result of adult stem cell research.

CIRM Chairman Robert Klein said when voters approved Proposition 71, “they expected CIRM to do two things: Deliver hope for people suffering from a range of serious health conditions, and deliver an economic boost for the state.” Klein said the new report “demonstrates that we’ve delivered on the economic promise today.”

The report claims 25,000 jobs and $200 million in new tax revenue through 2014. Nearly 13,000 construction jobs are expected to be created through the building of new facilities.

Hank Greely of Stanford University’s Center for Law and the Biosciences told the Sacramento Bee the numbers in the CIRM report “sound plausible,” but held off on a full assessment.

“These are basically impacts from spending money,” Greely said. “The proof of the pudding will be whether that contributes to treatments.”

CIRM does run a lucrative jobs program for its own officials. According to a Los Angeles Times report, CIRM President Alan Trounson was paid $490,000 in 2009, which is much more than the $199,700 Francis S. Collins earns as director of the federal National Institutes of Health. CIRM pays co-chair Art Torres, a former state senator, $225,000.

Klein declined to take any salary until 2008, but the wealthy developer now draws $150,000. Klein is already on record that CIRM should be given another $3 billion.

CIRM is an insiders’ club essentially accountable to no one, and its job and revenue claims remain dubious. The federal government now funds embryonic stem cell research, calling into question CIRM’s reason for existence. Adult stem cell research also continues at many institutions, delivering cures and therapies CIRM has failed to produce and remains unlikely to deliver.

 

K. Lloyd Billingsley is the editorial director of the San Francisco-based Pacific Research Institute.

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