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Recalling California’s Stem Cell Bust

Tuesday May 17th, 2016   •   Posted by K. Lloyd Billingsley at 5:00am PDT   •  

lab test_MAs John Tozzi and Michelle Cortez of Bloomberg report on the stem cell front, “press releases, popular media, and even some journal articles routinely inflate expectations for future therapies based on early findings that probably will never turn into cures.” Now the International Society for Stem Cell Research, representing more than 4,100 researchers, wants to tone down the hype. The number of approved stem cell treatments is “pretty darn small,” and claims about cures, researchers say, “must be accurate, circumspect and restrained.”

That is good advice, but it comes a little late for California researchers, patients and taxpayers alike.

As we noted, California’s $3 billion Stem Cell Research and Cures Act, Proposition 71, promised life-saving cures and therapies for a host of afflictions, including heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Celebrity promoters included Christopher Reeve, Michael J. Fox and Arnold Schwarzenegger. In 2004 voters approved the measure, which created the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine. CIRM drew down the money and spent lavishly, but ten years later in 2014 not a single cure or therapy had reached the clinic, and none was likely to do so. By late 2015, according to David Jensen of the California Stem Cell Report, CIRM had produced no cures but sought to spend $620 million on clinical work and translational research, including $50 million for “educational programs” and another $50 million for “infrastructure.” CIRM plans a number of “translating” centers, at $15 million a pop, “to negotiate federal rules and regulations, and win ultimate approval of a therapy.”

In practice, this state agency has always functioned as the California Institute for the Redistribution of Money. Heavily insulated from legislative oversight, CIRM awarded huge salaries and provided a soft landing spot for over-the-hill politicians. CIRM bosses are certain to don the white coat of medical science and seek more money from the people. Taxpayers might keep in mind their actual record: $3 billion spent without any of the promised cures or therapies.

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May 2016