A Call for $5.5 Billion More and 'Silence' from Scientists


Pioneer Founding member
Maybe, others who received money from CIRM are too busy blogging or finding ways to get rich. Hard to tell.

May 12, 2020
California Stem Cell Report

The story of jCyte, Inc., the California stem cell firm that notched a $252 million deal last week, contains a chapter that might be titled "Golden Eggs and Buttering Your Bread."

What makes that chapter significant is that it involves steps taken by jCyte to give some credit to California's stem cell 'goose,' so to speak: The creature that has laid $2.7 billion in the laps of hundreds of scientists and institutions over the last 14 years. JCyte readily acknowledges and publicizes the importance of the $34 million that the California stem cell agency has provided directly and indirectly to the firm and its founders.

"What?" you might ask incredulously. "Isn't that to be expected?"

Well, no actually, based on the performance of institutions and researchers over the past few years. When they issue news releases about major developments in research funded by the agency, most often the state's beneficence is omitted or buried. And that means that the state stem cell agency's financing is also not mentioned in the subsequent news stories about the research. (See here and here also.)

The California Stem Cell Report holds no brief for or against the agency and its quest for $5.5 billion more to save it from financial extinction. But should the multibillion-dollar initiative reach the ballot in November, California voters deserve a full and robust exploration of the pluses and minuses of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), as the agency is formally known.

If the seemingly tongued-tied institutions and researchers do not speak up about whether they think CIRM is worthy, they do not serve the public well or their own self-interest. The same applies to CIRM's opponents, who owe it to themselves and to voters to make a well-reasoned, fact-based case for letting the agency slowly expire.

The stem cell agency is all but invisible to the voters of the Golden State. The media rarely write or broadcast stories about it nowadays, which has been the practice for the past decade or more. And CIRM is certainly a much different creature than it was 10 or so years ago.

JCyte deals with rare eye diseases. It is also rare among CIRM recipients in that it clearly recognizes the critical role that the agency has played in its short life. The firm's web site attests to that impact on its "missions" page. Its news release on the $252 million deal demonstrates that as well. And it was demonstrated again yesterday morning when its president, Paul Bresge, was quoted on the CIRM blog as saying,
“jCyte is extremely grateful to CIRM, which was established to support innovative regenerative medicine programs and research such as ours. CIRM supported our early preclinical data all the way through our late stage clinical trials. This critical funding gave us the unique ability and flexibility to put patients first in each and every decision that we made along the way. In addition to the funding, the guidance that we have received from the CIRM team has been invaluable. jCell would not be possible without the early support from CIRM, our team at jCyte, and patients with degenerative retinal diseases are extremely appreciative for your support.”
Bresge clearly understands where his bread is buttered, so to speak, and what produces the golden eggs. We do not intend to say that in any kind of demeaning way. The financial component of scientific research is far below the radar of the overwhelming majority of voters. It is up to those who have something at stake to strive diligently to explain how the money works and sustains science. No cash. No research.

The deal with jCyte has big numbers attached. Not all research results can say that. Most are considerably less dramatic as far as the public is concerned. But researchers -- if they are to well serve themselves and their institutions -- should be clear with the public that they would not be doing much research in any area if state and federal funding did not exist. Informing voters is an incremental task and slow. One bit of information on top of another. It requires perseverance and patience. Just like culturing something in a petri dish. Not just ballot campaigns every 15 years.

Posted by David Jensen