October 19, 2020

The Niche

Knoepfler lab stem cell blog

The Case for CIRM 2.0: Continuing California’s Stem Cell Leadership

What does the future hold for the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), also known as the California Stem Cell Agency?

While new CIRM grants should be awarded up until 2017, CIRM is rightly thinking about its future. Californians should be paying attention and thinking ahead too.

CIRM 2.0You might say that since I’m a CIRM grantee, I cannot be entirely unbiased about looking to its future. Perhaps. On the other hand I have also been closely following CIRM for its whole existence and have blogged about it extensively. I would say there are few people outside of CIRM who know it better than I do. Based on this knowledge, I firmly believe it is a very powerful force for good for California and will be very positive for California’s future as well.

So what does the future hold for CIRM?

The two main options for CIRM’s future that I have heard batted around for months are (1) to stay a state funded agency via somehow generating a new basis of state funding or (2) to become a private non-profit philanthropic organization.

I believe the people of the State of California would be wise to fund CIRM for another term (what I call CIRM 2.0) and here are the reasons why.

CIRM is a very positive force for the state economy. It has strongly boosted the California economy with more than a quarter billion dollars in taxes generated and the creation of almost tens of thousands of jobs. I suspect (and, yes, I’m not an economist) that the true positive benefit of CIRM will be in the billions if it continues.

Beyond the sizable concrete economic impact of CIRM, it has also made California a global leader in stem cell research. And that’s saying something given the exploding interest in stem cells around the world. I believe that the global stem cell leadership of CIRM is having major positive benefits to the state that could continue for decades if CIRM  lives on as a dynamic funder of stem cell research.

CIRM has very strong momentum right now. CIRM has hit its stride recently and is on the road to making new stem cell treatments a reality. To have CIRM end or be greatly attenuated in a few years would be the absolute worst timing. Just as CIRM is accelerating as an organization in terms of its nearer term potential for great positive clinical and financial impact, to have it go unfunded would be akin to calling off a marathon in which the state of California is the huge leader after only a few miles.

Absent an active CIRM, the state faces a potential harmful stem cell brain drain. Just as CIRM has attracted dozens of the best stem cell scientists from around the world to California in the last 7 years or so, if CIRM ceases to functionally exist as a granting agency after 2017, we could see the opposite effect. In fact, it may already be happening in anticipation of CIRM calling it a day in a few more years as we have seen some prominent stem cell researchers announce plans to leave California.

Stem cell technology is ushering in a true revolution in medicine that will materialize in coming decades and CIRM has been a big part of the events that set the stage for that seismic shift for the positive in medicine due to stem cell technology. No matter what other states or other countries might claim, California has been the leader of the stem cell world. If we as Californians effectively pull the plug on CIRM as a state agency, it becomes difficult to see how California can lead on stem cells.

I see a CIRM of the future as a key component of a vibrant future California economy via its role in the stem cell revolution, but in my vision it is a new version of CIRM.

I call it CIRM 2.0

In the future, CIRM 2.0 is a logical continuation of its current self, but with some important changes some of which are already evident in trends such as a greater connection to the biotech industry and more of a translational focus, while still funding high impact basic research such as of the kind that gave us iPS cells.

A big question for CIRM 2.0 is who will be the new CIRM President because this person will play a fundamental role in the transition from CIRM to CIRM 2.0. The new President needs to be a very unique person with great stem cell cred and a true vision for stem cell-based medicine.

There is no stem cell crystal ball so as with anything there are risks and uncertainties, but I believe that in the end CIRM 2.0 will keep California the global stem cell leader with the potential for huge benefits to the state as well as patients and medicine around the world.

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