The $3 billion that California will spend over the next 10 years on stem cell research has been repeatedly described as a 21st-century gold rush. Its a tremendous amount of money, and its an incentive for scientists and researchers to come to the state.
Given the talk about recruitment and relocation, comparisons to the gold rush are apt. In 1848, people arriving in California by boat were so anxious to start panning for gold that ships were abandoned in the San Francisco harbor. Passengers and crews abandoned the high seas for the high Sierra mountains.
And certainly its getting a bit tedious to watch recruiters from universities and other research institutions grin as they talk about the increased budgets, the new, sizeable grants—and, of course, the weather—as they metaphorically rub their hands together in gleeful anticipation of whats to come. Research grants could be made as early as May.
But a funny, 21st-century thing is happening in reaction to Californias stem cell bonanza: States are fighting back. And theyre putting pressure on the federal government to amend its policies to fund the kind of research California has authorized.
Californias $3 billion initiative—backed in large part by biotech-savvy investors in Silicon Valley—was approved in November. For many of those working to approve the measure, it served as a rebuke to the Bush administration.
Early in his first term, President Bush put strict limits on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research, saying that the work—in which days- and hours-old human embryos are often destroyed—was ethically questionable.
The administrations stance on the issue was denounced by Democrats during the presidential election campaigns. But now it seems that both parties are working within the states to follow Californias lead. If proposals now put forward are enacted, embryonic stem cell research could receive another $3 billion in research support across the country.
Its not hard to see why the taps have opened. Like California, the states most concerned about losing out to the West Coast have strong, well-known universities or other research institutions that rely on grants for much of their financial support to conduct work and to keep researchers and scientists on staff.
That research is often the starting point for the development of drugs, devices and procedures around which profit-making companies can be created.
Worries about losing jobs—as well as the spill-over effects that bring taxes to their coffers—arent the easiest things for politicians to understand. And a brief look at news accounts from across the country shows just how much of a hot button the issue has become for politicians.
- New Jersey Gov. Richard Codey has asked his state legislature to spend $500 million to fund stem cell research in New Jersey. Some members of the states legislature would like the amount to be higher and have proposed $1 billion in funding, possibly through the sale of state-backed bonds.
- In Massachusetts, state Senate President Robert Travaglini, a Democrat, has said he wants the state legislature to authorize funding for stem cell research. Massachusetts needs to remain competitive with other states, Travaglini told local newspapers. The measure appears to have some support from Massachusetts Republicans, too.
- A similar measure is in the works in Connecticut, where a bipartisan coalition of state lawmakers has proposed spending as much as $100 million on stem cell research.
- New Yorks gotten into the act, too. State legislators—specifically citing competition from California—want to authorize $1 billion in support of stem cell research.
- Illinois state controller has suggested a $1 billion bond measure for that state, with funding to come from a tax on cosmetic surgery procedures.
- Wisconsins governor announced that his state would spend $750 million to fund stem cell research in that state, although exact details of how the funds will be raised and allocated still must be approved.
- Worried about losing out to New Jersey and New York, Delaware Congressman Mike Castle, a Republican, is planning to reintroduce legislation to allow federal funding for stem cell research. That state, the second smallest in the nation, is more limited than others in what it can spend, according to its governor.
Not all of these proposals will be fully funded, and of course there are plenty of other states that may well make their own proposals. But clearly, the tearing down of the dam in California is just starting to flood the biotech industry.
eWEEK.com Technology and Politics columnist Chris Nolan spent years chronicling the excesses of the dot-com era with incisive analysis leavened with a dash of humor. Before that, she covered politics and technology in D.C. You can read her musings on politics and technology every day in her Politics from Left to Right Weblog.
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