President Trump’s immediate scaledown and partial repeal of the Affordable Care Act has made headlines all around the country this January, and the implications of his actions will not be fully seen or understood for months and years. In addition to individuals and businesses who are unsure what their healthcare policies will look like in the future, stem cell agencies that function based on the regulations of Obamacare are no longer sure what will happen to their stem cell campaigns. Nobody understands this uncertainty better than Art Torres, the vice chairman of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine.
California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, Est. 2004
Back in 2004, more than half of California voters approved Proposition 71, which allowed for the establishment of a stem cell agency that would seek to provide accelerated stem cell therapies to patients and boost the state’s economy simultaneously. As a result, the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) was founded and awarded $3 billion in state bond revenue. In the 13 years since, CIRM has significantly evolved and developed to support both embryonic and nonembryonic stem cell research and therapies, gene therapy, tissue regeneration, and many other regenerative medicine technologies.
Of its original $3 billion, the institute has $700 million left that it set to run out in 2020. Of course, CIRM cannot directly lead efforts to raise more money, so its fate is in the hands of the agency’s supporters who will appeal to voters, philanthropists, and medical companies to obtain enough money to maintain CIRM’s vital progress. But even with more money raised, the likely end of Obamacare places another enormous question mark into the mix.
Without Obamacare, Now What?
Obamacare made it possible to implement payment for innovative stem cell treatments, so without Obamacare, Torres worries that doctors, insurance companies and others will no longer be able to fund access to emerging treatments. This would theoretically place the pricetag back on CIRM to ensure that treatments can still be received, and $700 million simply won’t cover everything that needs to be done.
Torres expects that the decision will be once again placed in voters’ hands. “Right now, we don’t know whether it’s going to be $3 billion, $4 billion or $5 billion as a request. I think the number one priority for CIRM is to show some results from the last funding, and I think that’s starting to happen.”
The Process of CIRM
No entity can receive $3 billion in funding without enduring criticism, and CIRM is no exception. Critics of the institution believe it has not delivered the results that were promised, leading President Randy Mills to take extra steps to emphasize performance and measurable results. CIRM has funded 30 clinical trials for major health dangers like HIV, blindness, cancers, and heart disease. Two patients were even cured of their diseases thanks to the trials.
If the vote in 2004 is any indication, California residents believe strongly in the potential for stem cell research to transform the possibilities of healthcare, and they will rise to the occasion in 2018 to once again vote for the support of regenerative medicine.