The Sacramento Bee has editorialized on a topic near to our hearts at PRI: stem cell research. Actually, stem cell research itself is “above our paygrade” as the President-elect might say. Nevertheless, we have an intense interest in the whereabouts of $3 billion that Californian voters approved to fund embryonic stem cell research in 2004, via Prop 71.
Prop 71 was passed in a hot flush of outrage at President Bush’s forbidding the use of federal R&D money to work on new embryonic stem cell lines. Unsurprisingly, because the proposition was really just meant to stick California’s thumb in George Bush’s eye, confidence that the money has been well spent is increasingly shaky.
Last Thursday, the Little Hoover Commmission (a bipartisan, independent state agency) commenced hearings into the California Institute of Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), the outfit funded by Prop 71. So far, CIRM has chewed through $600 million with no substantive results. The first day of hearings revealed that CIRM’s board is rife with conflicts of interest.
But there’s not much we can do about that now: Gov. Schwarzenegger even vetoed a bill that would have allowed the money to be spent on adult stem cells, too. This appears to be an increasingly promising line of inquiry without the ethical issues that trouble research on embryonic stem cells, according to my colleague Lloyd Billingsley. (My former colleague Diana Ernst has also tackled Prop 71, and Lloyd previously did back in 2007, too.)
$3 billion R&D dollars is a lot of money to hand over to politically connected insiders to exploit in order to show George Bush who’s boss. Imagine if California taxpayers had kept that money for ourselves, with each of us free to invest our share in biotech or pharma companies, or non-profit research institutes, of our own choice. Who can measure what new therapies have been lost by binding ourselves to this politically driven, monolithic agenda?
(For a very interesting argument that the government should have no role whatsoever in medical R&D, an extreme to which I’m unwilling to go, here is a fascinating libertarian book.)