Race Begins for California Embryonic Stem Cell Research Funding

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Nov 9, 2004   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Race Begins for California Embryonic Stem Cell Research Funding Email this article
Printer friendly page

by Steven Ertelt
LifeNews.com Editor
November 9, 2004

Sacramento, CA (LifeNews.com) — The race is on for biotech firms and research universities to obtain money following the passage of a measure that requires taxpayers to cough up $6 billion to fund embryonic stem cell research that has yet to cure a single patient.

California is a veritable gold mine for research funds thanks to the proposal, which will authorize $295 million per year for the destructive research.

Ralph Snodgrass, president and chief executive of VistaGen Therapeutics Inc., a small stem cell research company, says his firm is aiming for funding.

"We expect this bill to have a significant (impact) on our ability to grow the organization, both in infrastructure and scientific staff," he said.

Deans at the University of California at Davis met recently to discuss how to get in on the action.

"We’re the only place with a veterinary center and a primate center; we have a law school, we have a graduate school of management, we have a medical school," said Vice Chancellor Klein, in a pitch to school officials. "When you put all these pieces together, we have a package of things to offer for the stem cell initiative."

Officials at the University of California at San Francisco are so hopeful about the prospects of funding that they are planning a new $65 million stem-cell facility.

Arnold Kriegstein, director of UCSF’s stem cell research program, outlined plans to accelerate and expand the university’s program, which includes the construction of a 50,000- to 80,000-square-foot stem-cell facility on UCSF’s Parnassus campus.

UCSF is one of just two academic institutions in the United States that created human embryonic stem cell lines that qualified for federal funding under President Bush’s limits on taxpayer money being used to support destructive research.

The scramble for research funds is so tight that Massachusetts-based Advanced Cell Technology is considering relocating from the biotech friendly Boston area to California to grab its share of the pie.

"You have to realize that you were the first state to pass legislation that creates a very favorable environment for support of stem cell research," said company medical director Robert Lanza in an interview with the Sacramento Bee newspaper. "We missed the boat here."

Only California-based research is eligible for funding — that fact has some companies located in other nations such as the United Kingdom and Singapore considering establishing offices in the Golden State.

Ross DeVol, director of regional economics at the Milken Institute, a Santa Monica-based think tank told the Bee that the advantage in grabbing the cash would go to California firms.

"From a competitive standpoint, biotech companies that have a presence here … would be at a distinct advantage to those who don’t," Devol explained.

Despite two decades of study, embryonic stem cell research has yet to cure a single patient. However, the use of adult stem cells has already produced 140 treatments for diseases and ailments.

Last week, 59 percent of California voters approved Proposition 71 despite opposition from pro-life groups, religious organizations, taxpayer associations and the California Nurses Association.

Pro-life groups faced dificult odds in attempting to defeat the proposal.

"We were inundated with Michael J Fox, Christopher Reeves and other very emotional TV spots from illness groups day in and out," Brian Johnston of the California Pro-Life Council told LifeNews.com. "Our folks did an incredible job against incredible odds."

In fact proponents of the measure has more than $25 million to spent touting it while opponents had just $250,000.