Sometimes one of the hardest things to do is to take a complex subject and tell it in simple, easy to understand terms without ‘dumbing it down’. It’s particularly true of science where concepts and language are often so dense you need a Thesaurus at your side just to understand what they are talking about. That’s why an article in the latest issue of Fortune magazine about the business of stem cell research was so refreshing. It delved deep into the science without losing any of the sense of hope and wonder at what it is the researchers are trying to do.
Full disclosure: we worked closely with the author of the piece, Jeffrey M. O’Brien, to help him understand the work that we do here at the stem cell agency, how we have used our funding to help create the infrastructure for a whole new industry in California, one with a potentially enormous payoff.
Now that the infrastructure is in place, CIRM is making a beeline for the clinic with $437 million in grants aimed at bringing therapies to trial within five years. The targeted diseases are a murderers’ row, including Type 1 diabetes, heart failure, leukemia, and stroke. One recent grant recipient is expected to begin a clinical trial in post-heart-attack patients within months.
O’Brien quotes our President Alan Trounson, PhD, and Chairman Jonathan Thomas, PhD, JD, in talking about the progress being made in California in pursuing promising therapies for deadly diseases.
Trounson has high-profile targets in mind as well. “The science stands up that we can cure HIV. My feeling is, let’s get that done,” he says.
(Here’s more about the HIV disease team that’s nearing clinical trials.)The author also points out the many challenges that stem cell scientists face, not just in delivering those therapies but also in creating a business model that will make this kind of research viable over the long term. But ultimately he remains convinced that there is no turning back from this path, that we are heading in the right direction. From our perspective, it’s hard to argue with that.
It’s easy to imagine the benefits of stem cell therapies reaching even further. Scientists are doing their part, and there are signs that the government and the citizenry are increasingly excited. Will the money follow? The citizens of California have spoken. If my grandmother and I had the power to get the rest of the country to follow, we would.