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Who’s funding stem cell research

by Jim Fossett

We’ve been arguing for a long time here that states have been spending more on human embryonic stem cell(hESC) research than the feds, and now we have some numbers to back it up. In a piece just posted on the Rockefeller Institute of Government website, we try to tote up who’s spending how much on stem cell research in general and hESC in particular. While we can’t be nearly as precise as we’d like, several things are clear..

+ The feds aren’t spending much at all. Total stem cell allocations via NIH has been roughly flat at $640 million annually for the last couple of years. Only about six percent of that, or roughly $40 million annually, goes for hESC research.

+ States are spending more than the feds on hESC. California by itself has already obligated more than $200 million to hESC research, making it the largest hESC funder in the world. The California Institute of Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), the state agency which manages the stem cell program, is spending more than five times what NIH is spending on hESC research. Other states are spending smaller amounts, but sizeable programs are currently under consideration in New Jersey, New York, and Massachusetts. If these programs are put into place, which seems at least possible, if not likely, states could be spending over $500 million annually on stem cell research over the next 8-10 years. While much of this money hasn’t been spent, or even officially approved yet, it seems likely that the bulk of these dollars will wind up being spent on hESC research. Even if as little as half winds up being spent for hESC, the states collectively would be outspending NIH annually by a factor of six.

+ Foundations and private philanthropists are spending a ton of money on hESC. While we don’t have it all by a long shot, we counted some $1.7 billion in private donations over the last few years to support stem cell research, most of it to establish stem cell programs free of federal funding restrictions at a number of different universities and other research institutions. This doesn’t count grants supporting hESC and other stem cell research made by disease foundations such as the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, the Michael J Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Disease, and the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.

+ This isn’t going to change much. The odds of a big bump in federal funding under a new administration seem pretty long. No matter who gets elected president, he or she will inherit large scale shooting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, a large budget deficit, big expiring tax cuts, and a variety of other agenda items that will require attention. hESC funding will remain controversial, both among stem cell detractors and other scientists who can’t get their own research funded from NIH’s increasingly tight budget. A new president is unlikely to have the time, attention, or political capital to spend much of any of them on stem cell research.

Jim Fossett
AMBI/Rockefeller Institute
Federalism and Bioethics Initiative

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