The California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) has awarded $53 million to the University of California at Davis for research into Huntington’s disease and other maladies. The state stem-cell agency has given a total of $126 million to UC Davis and handed out nearly $1 billion overall, without producing any cures or therapies.
Created by Proposition 71 in 2004, CIRM is spending $3 billion in bond money on the embryonic stem cell research the Bush administration declined to support. The prime mover of Proposition 71 was Robert Klein II, the wealthy real-estate developer who created the California Housing Finance Agency (CHFA) in 1973. The 2004 Prop 71 promotional campaign featured actors Michael J. Fox and Christopher Reeve and promised miraculous cures for a host of diseases. But CIRM played no role in recent medical-scientific advances such as the construction of a new windpipe for a Colombian woman, and the near-total restoration of sight to a man whose eyes sustained chemical damage in 1948. These were triumphs of adult stem-cell research.
Klein wrote the initiative to install himself as chairman and he also crafted an isolation ward effectively off limits to legislative oversight. Heavy on the management side, CIRM prefers higher-priced alternatives. In 2009, CIRM board member Duane Roth, experienced in biotechnology, offered to serve as vice chair for no salary. Instead of accepting that offer, CIRM made Roth co-vice-chair along with former state senator and Art Torres, who is not a medical scientist, then duly tripled Torres’ initial salary of $75,000 to $225,000. CIRM staffers refer to him as “senator” Torres. Chairman Klein did not take a salary until 2008, when he grabbed $150,000 for himself. Before his departure last year, Klein was on record that he would like another $5 billion in bond money for CIRM. Taxpayers might want to check the report card.
CIRM excels at growing government, enriching individuals (current president Alan Trounson bags more than $490,000 a year), redistributing money, and providing a comfy home for over-the-hill politicians. But CIRM has yet to produce a single cure or treatment and not likely to do so given its research bias. The federal government now authorizes embryonic stem-cell research, invalidating CIRM’s reason for existence. Government agencies are easy to start, especially if they promise miracles. CIRM confirms they are practically impossible to shut down, even if wasteful, unaccountable, and a bust in their basic mission.