Stanford researchers celebrate Prop 14 win

November 15, 2020

Despite an uphill battle, last month Californians approved a new, larger round of funding for stem cell research by passing Proposition 14. 

Stem cell funding for California research first passed as a $3 billion bond issue in 2004, establishing the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM). Funding from CIRM has been central to stem cell research efforts at Stanford, which has received more stem cell research funding than any other university campus. This time, California voters passed a $5.5 billion bond issue to support stem cell research in the state. 

Institute Director Irv Weissman lauded the passage of Prop 14 as meaning so much more than just additional funding for stem cell science. “This enables California scientists not only to make discoveries new discoveries to address chronic disease,” Weissman said. “Unlike any other funding agency, CIRM also gives those academic scientists who make the discovery the ability to take their research all the way through phase I clinical trials.”

This is essential, Weissman says, because many promising therapeutics never make it to the public because they are dropped by pharmaceutical companies not because the therapeutic doesn’t work, but because it won’t be as profitable as they want. “The passage of proposition 14 means that more breakthroughs will go to the first stages of human testing without the influence of the profit motive,” Weissman said. 

Weissman can point to numerous cases, some in his own experience, where drug companies let good therapies lie fallow because their business interests lay elsewhere. One exception, he says, is the anti-cancer therapy that utilizes antibodies that block the cell signal CD47. The therapy is now in phase II clinical trials run by Gilead, but “it would never have made it that far if it weren’t for CIRM funding that allowed Stanford to run the first phase of the human clinical trials,” he said.  

“The point is that this is not just more money for science,” Weissman said. “This is a different way of judging science and making sure that medicines which could alleviate human suffering make it to the marketplace.”