After 14 years, California’s stem cell agency finally gets a royalty cheque

Fourteen years after Californians voted an overwhelming Yes! to stem cell research, including human embryonic stem cells, and created the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), the agency has received its first royalty cheque. The amount? US$190,345.87.

Not even the staff of the controversial CIRM were inclined to boast about the return on investment for Californian tax-payers. Proposition 71, which voters approved in 2004, authorised a $3 billion bond issue to finance the CIRM. Instead, the CIRM’s communications director described it simply as “a little piece of history” and wrote on its blog that:

Maria Millan, CIRM’s President & CEO, says the amount of the payment is not the most significant part of this milestone – after all CIRM has invested more than $2.5 billion in stem cell research since 2004. She says the fact that we are starting to see a return on the investment is important and reflects some of the many benefits CIRM brings to the state."

However, the CIRM’s critics were scathing.

John M. Simpson, of Consumer Watchdog, said, “Once again it’s clear that Proposition 71  was oversold by its sponsors. Despite campaign hype, it’s only now that we are seeing the first royalty payment and a rather modest one at that."

Bernard Munos, a senior fellow at FasterCures. told  California Stem Cell Report, an invaluable source of information on the agency:

"The $200,000 check from City of Hope should be acknowledged, but it only represents 0.02% of the $1.1 billion in royalties that were promised to California taxpayers -- and does not even cover the annual salary of CIRM’s part-time vice chairman.

And Marcy Darnovsky, executive director of the Center for Genetics and Society, told California Stem Cell Report:

"Many Californians voted to establish CIRM because they believed the promises that its backers were making: that we'd soon see revolutionary medical breakthroughs, that our state would get back a billion dollars or more in royalties, that the agency would be run by an 'independent' board. Almost a decade and a half later, none of that has come to pass ...

"The royalty check ... is less than a drop in the bucket. It's almost as if you loaned someone $3000 (at your own expense) because they promised to do some good work and pay you back $1000. Years later, they haven’t finished the work but they are offering you twenty cents instead of $1000, and asking for thousands more."

During the campaign for Proposition 71, supporters strongly argued that destructive research on human embryos was absolutely necessary for the science to proceed and that cures would certainly come. Almost 14 years later, there have been no cures. The royalty cheque was for a potential therapy for glioblastoma, a deadly brain tumour – but even this not on the market yet. Thus far, it has only passed Stage I clinical trials and been written up in glowing terms in O, The Oprah Magazine.

MORE ON THESE TOPICS | california institute for regenerative medicine, cirm, stem cells

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