Two-and-a-half years after California's Proposition 71 authorized public funding for stem cell research, the state's Supreme Court has removed the final obstacle to issuing $3 billion in bonds. Yesterday, the court turned down an appeal by citizens' groups that argued that the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) lacked sufficient state oversight and was rife with conflicts of interest. At a press conference following the ruling, real estate financier Robert Klein, the chief author of the initiative, exulted that CIRM "has lift-off today. ... The future for the next decade is assured for California and for medical research on the stem cell frontier."
Since its inception, CIRM has sought to create a system from the ground up for funding research on human embryonic stem cells to fill in the gaps left by federal funding restrictions (ScienceNOW, 12 April). It has established mechanisms covering a host of complicated issues, including conflict-of-interest policies for its task forces and review committees and intellectual property policies. And from the get-go, CIRM has also been dogged by lawsuits and by criticisms from legislators and consumer advocates. Things have not always gone smoothly within the organization either. In April, CIRM's president, Zach Hall, resigned more than a month before his planned June departure following a contentious meeting over a new $222 million facilities grant program (Science, 27 April, p. 526).
The agency, however, has so far approved close to $160 million in research grants, thanks to a $150 million loan from the state and $45 million generated by Klein from the sale of "bond anticipation notes."
Klein said yesterday that CIRM will waste no time in moving on, with the first $250 million in bonds to be issued in July or August. Meanwhile plaintiffs' lawyer Dana Cody says "for the purposes of our clients, the litigation is over." But, she adds, "California is wasting $3 billion" on research that has yet to produce any cures.