Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Jonathan Thomas discusses plans to extend CIRM's benefits to California

Jonathan Thomas is chair of the CIRM governing board.

This week CIRM delivered a document to the governor, state controller, state treasurer and state legislature describing how CIRM intends to ensure that its mission extends beyond the $3 billion authorized by proposition 71. Based on our current estimate, we expect to issue the final grants five years from now in 2017. The organization will maintain a staff to oversee those multi-year awards through 2021.

Remember that five years ago, Shinya Yamanaka had just made his discovery that skin cells could be reprogrammed to embryonic-like iPS cells—a technology that now makes up roughly 20 percent of our research funding. We have no way of predicting what technologies that don’t yet exist will bring the next revolution in stem cell science, and we certainly can’t know what advance will bring new therapies, lower health care expenses, create jobs and leverage investment to California.

Given those uncertainties, the plan we delivered is a set of ideas that we’ll be pursuing over the next decade to ensure that the vision of California voters extends beyond the life of the agency.

The first $1.1 billion in awards, by 2014 will have leveraged $860 million in additional investment to California, created 25,000 job years, and brought in 200 million in tax revenue for the state, all while capping administrative expenses at less than six percent. The transition plan we provided describes mechanisms for continuing and expanding those benefits to the state of California.

Throughout the next decade, CIRM intends to ensure that grantees have the tools they need to turn basic discoveries into cures. We will protect our IP to safeguard the state’s investment and will make sure that authority for monitoring CIRM loans is transferred appropriately. We will also continue to encourage the growth of California’s biotechnology industry to sustain CIRM’s mission into the future.

Moving forward, we are pursuing opportunities to collaborate with disease foundations, which have already made significant contributions to CIRM’s programs. We will continue to promote our efforts to allow California researchers access to intramural resources at the National Institutes of Health, and we will explore the possibility of an independent venture philanthropy program to fund phase 1 and phase 2 research programs in stem cells and regenerative medicine. If and when we can make a compelling case based on the total performance of CIRM-funded projects, we will also consider whether or not to pursue additional public funding for CIRM itself. All of these efforts will be carried out so that stem cell programs started under CIRM are able to reach patients in California and around the world.

As Alan Trounson, president of CIRM, and I say in our plan:
Our lasting accomplishments will include physical infrastructure to house thousands of stem cell researchers in California; the recruitment and training of over one thousand new scientists within the state; a pipeline of translational and clinical development programs; international relationships advancing and accelerating stem cell research throughout the world; and numerous biotechnology companies focused on stem cell research within California. Collectively, this legacy will allow California to continue world leadership in the coming decades.
Here is a copy of the transition plan posted on the CIRM website [pdf].


  1. The iPS cells are abnormal/cancer cells, useless for therapy. CIRM has not funded any voter approved human embryonic stem cell research of Prop71, but gave taxpayer’s money to make and bank useless iPS cells, then published it in Nature to show iPS cell immune-rejected, not work at all, what a waste. How many of CIRM 1000 papers really advance stem cell research, probably none.

  2. Actually, CIRM has funded more than $400 million in embryonic stem cell research, significantly more than any other stem cell type. You can see a complete list of our funded grants here: You can sort those by cell type used or disease focus. Many of those 1,000 papers are considered landmark papers in stem cell research, and show significant advances in neurodegenerative diseases, cancer and other disorders.

  3. Read more about CIRM's plans to tap high net worth individuals for venture philanthropy in this item on the California Stem Cell Report.