A year after California voters enacted Proposition 71, an initiative that committed the state to raise and disburse $3 billion for embryonic stem cell science over a decade, the state hasn't spent a penny on stem cell research and the institutions created to manage and oversee the biomedical funding bonanza are fighting a two-front battle for survival in both the courts and the California Legislature.
Instead of presiding over awards of hundreds of millions of dollars in grant money in 2005, as its backers predicted in November 2004, the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), the agency created to implement the state's bold experiment in biomedical research, is bogged down defending itself against legal attacks that have put its continued operation at risk (see BioCentury Nov. 8, 2004 & April 11, 2005).
A hearing last week in Alameda County Superior Court set the stage for an initial ruling on litigation that has prevented the state from issuing the bonds authorized by Prop. 71, but any decision is virtually certain to be appealed by the losing party, creating at least another year of limbo(see BioCentury Extra, Thursday Nov. 17).
In addition to legal challenges, CIRM and its Independent Citizens' Oversight Committee (ICOC) have been fending off state politicians who want to impose intellectual property, conflict of interest and transparency requirements. ICOC and CIRM leadership say the lawmakers would prevent them from fulfilling their mission, but politicians say the controls are needed to fulfill Prop. 71's promises to the taxpayers.
Conceived as a blockbuster institution with financial clout that would instantly shift the global center of gravity for stem cell research to California, CIRM thus has been forced to behave like a startup, devoting its resources to raising funds and bolstering its public image rather than to advancing scientific discovery.
Indeed, CIRM has been living off a loan from the state general fund and a private donation from the family of audio pioneer Ray