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California’s $3 billion Stem Cell Research and Cures Act, Proposition 71, promised life-saving cures and therapies for a host of afflictions. In 2004 voters approved the measure, which created the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM). Ten years later, David Jensen of the California Stem Cell Report shows how that is working out for patients and taxpayers alike.
“No California-financed cures or therapies have reached the clinic and none are likely to do so for years, if then,” says Jensen, who has been watching CIRM since 2005. So a ballpark figure for the number of actual cures and therapies emerging from CIRM is zero, and likely to stay that way. But as Jensen shows, CIRM is productive on another front: “The agency is spending money at a rate of $21,000 an hour, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.” So these folks are very good at spending other people’s money. By Jensen’s count, “more than $1.8 billion has been awarded,” and it has not been spent in a haphazard manner. A full 88 percent of the money, almost all of it, is “going to institutions linked to persons who are or have been on the agency’s board of governors.” UC Davis, which has a seat on the board, has received $125.8 million, ranking fifth among recipients. And as Jensen notes, former CIRM boss Alan Trounson is now with StemCells Inc. in New Jersey, which received $19.4 million from CIRM. None of this should come as a surprise.
In practice, CIRM has always stood for California Institute for the Redistribution of Money. Real estate tycoon Robert Klein cleverly wrote Prop. 71 to install himself as the institute’s chairman, and he protected it from almost all legislative oversight by requiring a 70 percent supermajority of both houses to make any structural or policy changes. He awarded huge salaries, such as president Alan Trounson’s $490,000, and provided a comfortable landing spot for politicians, such as former state senator and ex-Democratic Party boss Art Torres, immediately tripling the lawyer’s salary to $225,000. Klein grabbed $150,000 a year for himself, and the CIRM board gave money to a for-profit company for which Klein had lobbied, even though the institute’s own scientific reviewers twice rejected the proposal.
With this kind of insider trading, and no cures, CIRM is a complete bust. California should shut it down and beware of any initiative that comes wearing a white coat.