Designing an Effective Program of State-Sponsored Human Embryonic Stem-Cell Research
California’s initiative to create the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), which sponsors human embryonic stem cell research within the state, has been significantly delayed by a series of political and legal battles over the structure, procedures and policies of CIRM, including its policies regarding intellectual property rights emanating from its grants. CIRM’s problems reflect the underlying political and economic environment that any state faces in implementing a successful stem-cell research program. To be efficiently implemented, all government-supported research projects that have commercial potential must overcome the danger of “pork barrel” effects and the political problem of accommodating confidential peer review. In addition, some problems associated with this program arise from its particular characteristics: its narrow scope, which is an example of “earmarking” government research expenditures; the bitter public controversy over the legitimacy of stem cell research; and unrealistic perceptions by political leaders and the public about the short-run therapeutic results and financial payoffs to this research. This essay explores these problems and discusses the extent to which the structure of CIRM is likely to lead to an effective response to them.