California voters have again backed spending billions of dollars for stem cell research with the approval of a ballot measure.
The initiative, Proposition 14, had been narrowly leading since Election Day; the Associated Press called the result Thursday night, with about 51% of voters in support.
The measure authorizes the state to issue $5.5 billion in bonds to fund stem cell research. With interest, it’s expected to cost nearly $8 billion over time.
The money will be doled out by the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, known as CIRM, which was created after voters in the state initially approved a bond measure for stem cell research in 2004. CIRM distributed the first round of funding in the form of grants to companies and academic teams to help build laboratories, recruit scientists, and train researchers. The authorized funding was running out, which led agency backers to work to get another measure on the 2020 ballot.
Proponents of the Prop 14 had touted that the funding was an economic boon to the state’s academic labs and booming biotech sector and could fuel discoveries that might ultimately lead to new therapies and applications in regenerative medicine.
Opponents had questioned just how impactful the first round of spending was in terms of scientific payoff. They also noted that Californians initially backed spending billions at a time when the George W. Bush administration cut off federal funding for some types of stem cell research. Now, there is more funding for the field generally, from federal agencies, venture capitalists, and philanthropists.
Critics also raised conflict-of-interest issues at CIRM and questioned whether the state should be spending money on stem cell research as it was dealing with wildfires, the Covid-19 pandemic, and its accompanying economic despair, on top of other challenges.