Wednesday, February 15, 2012

CIRM: the audacious vision is still possible

This weekend the Sacramento Bee ran an opinion piece about the future of stem cell research in general, and CIRM’s role in particular. The story was interesting in its focus on the process of developing and funding a new therapy—which can be long and arduous, and it only getting more so.

David Lesher wrote:
Those who speculate say that the most advanced stem cell treatments are still probably a decade away from becoming available to patients. And the cost to get them there will far exceed California's $3 billion investment. The hope was that California's bond would jump-start a biotech industry by building the laboratories and seeding early research to a point where private support would take over.

But that point of commercial viability is a moving target as private investors have grown more risk averse and the regulatory path for such radical new therapies is unpredictable. So the biggest question today in the stem cell field is not whether the science will work someday. The big questions are how will we pay for it, how will regulators know when it's ready and when will it happen?

"We are at a time when venture capital doesn't invest as early as it used to," said Larry Goldstein, a leading stem cell scientist at UC San Diego. "So the public has to do it. You may not like the system, but that's the system."
CIRM is all too aware of the difficulty of getting industry and investors to pick up promising new therapies. We’ve ramped up our efforts this year to engage with those groups and introduce them to the CIRM-funded projects that are in the pipeline (you can read our blog about those efforts). The hope is by getting researchers interacting with potential industry partners early on, those projects will be attractive to investors who can support them through clinical trials.

The story went on to talk about CIRM’s 43 projects in 26 disease areas that are currently in the pipeline toward clinical trials. You can read more about that portfolio on our web site. The Sacramento Bee quoted CIRM board member Sherry Lansing talking about the portfolio:
"This is what the taxpayers are waiting to see," Sherry Lansing, a member of the board, said after the presentation. "You keep reading these articles - 'Where are the results? Where is the beef?' Now I think we can really answer that."
Lesher makes clear that there are many challenges ahead in bringing new therapies to patients: he said of the voters who created CIRM, “It was pretty audacious of them in 2004 to try to create another economic driver like Silicon Valley and save lives at the same time.”

And while the vote was audacious, we agree with his conclusion that despite risks and challenges that vision is still possible.



  1. What about getting funding from the foundations dedicated to finding cures so patients have a stake and some visibility on the whole process. The current system is not working for patients. Your collective infinite visions exceed many of the patient's finite lifespans. While Goldstein seemed adynamic, Trounson offered hope albeit his 5 year time frame. Maybe younger, energetic researchers dedicated to timely outcomes and not captured and comfortable with the current system is the remedy to bring the funding and the vision into view? If people saw results the funding would follow, unquestioned.

  2. Is the situation truly that grim? I thought that, given the decent results of ACT, things would be looking (cautiously) upward

  3. I believe in the vision, and I'm both a stem cell scientist and a patient.

    Lesher's Silicon Valley analogy is interesting, but a bit tricky because while Steve Jobs could make an Apple computer in his garage and sell it whenever, stem cell-based products have enormous regulatory hurdles that the computer industry does not face. That eats up time and is not CIRM's fault. Still, I think the question of CIRM-driven cures is not one of "if", but rather of "when". They are coming!