The California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) is a state agency that was created by the passage of Proposition 71 in November 2004. The CIRM will distribute $3 billion of public money to fund stem cell research and build research facilities over the next ten years. The CIRM is mandated to prioritize funding for embryonic stem cell research and research cloning. The funds it allocates will be generated by the sale of state bonds at a total cost, including interest, of $6 billion to $7 billion.
The CIRM is governed by a twenty-nine member governing board, the Independent Citizens Oversight Committee (ICOC). It is composed of officers from public and private universities and nonprofit research centers, representatives of biotechnology corporations, and disease-specific patient advocates. Twenty-seven members are appointed by California elected officials and chancellors of the University of California system, who select them on the basis of the institutional or patient advocacy affiliations specified by Proposition 71. The chair and vice-chair are then elected by these members from candidates nominated by the elected officials.
Proposition 71 established three ICOC advisory committees, called Working Groups, one each for research grants, facilities grants, and research standards. The members of the Working Groups include the ICOC chair and some of the representatives of disease-specific research advocacy organizations on the ICOC, as well as outside experts.
Proposition 71 amended the state constitution to establish a constitutional right to conduct stem cell research. It prohibits legislative modification for the first three years, and afterwards requires a 70% super-majority in both houses - a nearly impossible threshold - and the governor's signature.
The impetus for Proposition 71 was the restrictive policy on federal funding of embryonic stem cell research imposed by President Bush in August 2001. It was initiated by wealthy California families with children affected by conditions that may someday be treated with cell-based therapies, and supported by many researchers and disease-specific patient advocacy groups.
The campaign for Proposition 71 was based on claims of near-term cures, and promised economic benefits to the state. It drew support from many who opposed the Bush restrictions on stem cell funding, or who saw it as an opportunity to express their general opposition to the Bush administration. The "Yes on 71" campaign spent $35 million, almost half from venture capitalists, and the proposition passed by 59 to 41 percent.For these reasons, CGS felt that the only responsible position was to oppose Proposition 71 in the November 2004 election, making clear our support for stem cell research but strongly concerned that Proposition 71 would set unfortunate precedents. We believe the actions of the CIRM following its establishment have strengthened our concerns during the campaign.