Apr 2014
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Stem cell research in California: ten years later

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Ten years ago, Californians voted in favor of Proposition 71 to support stem cell research, committing $3 billion to stem cell research and creating the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), the state agency that allocates the funds.

In 2011, CIRM announced it would fund its first human clinical trial using a stem-cell derived therapy, committing $25 million to a company called Geron to test the use of neural stem cells in patients in spinal cord injury. It was an inauspicious start: Geron shut down the trial after about six months and gave back the money, citing a desire to focus on experimental cancer therapies that were further along in the development pipeline.

However, CIRM has carried on. And according to the Sacramento Business Journal nine of the first 14 stem cell trials the agency has funded have either started enrolling patients or will begin doing so by the end of the year. Two trials are already underway: one testing therapies for HIV/AIDS, the other for congestive heart failure. Other trials set to begin include therapies for leukemia and solid tumor cancers, degenerative eye disease, Type I diabetes, sickle cell disease and a serious blood disorder.

“It’s the largest funding in the world for this particular science and it turned California into the epicenter for stem cell research,” said Dr. Jonathan Thomas, board chairman for the CIRM.

The process of transition from studies in mice to human trials is daunting and complex. (Read our recent blog entry on the state of stem cell trials about the state of stem cell clinical trials around the world.) But bringing more potential therapies to clinical trials is absolutely crucial.

“The world is full of cured mice,” says Dr. Jonathan Thomas. “You never know what you get in humans but this is how you find out. You have to get to clinical trials.”

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