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$5.5 billion stem cell initiative facing rocky road

A laboratory researcher examines cancer stem cells. (Image: science photo, via Shutterstock)

Backers of a $5.5 billion stem cell research proposal in California today have once again missed a self-imposed, but critical deadline as they continue to struggle with securing enough signatures to place the measure on the November ballot.

The campaign’s website this morning listed what is now its third deadline for gathering the signatures of 950,000 voters. Previously, the campaign had set an April 11 deadline and then an April 18 deadlineThe latest deadline is tomorrow (April 21). The rolling extensions do not augur well for its “unprecedented” attempt to collect signatures via a combined online and mail-in effort. 

The agency has has all but run out of the $3 billion that it was provided by voters in 2004.

In response to questions from the California Stem Cell Report, Sarah Melbostad, a spokeswoman for the campaign, declined to elaborate on the campaign’s progress or lack of it beyond a statement she released on Friday.

The questions ranged from just how many signatures the campaign currently has in hand to when they might be presented to election officials. (Here is a link to the text of all the questions.)

The campaign’s ballot initiative is aimed at staving off the financial demise of California’s stem cell agency, which has all but run out of the $3 billion that it was provided by voters in 2004, also through a ballot initiative.  Known formally as the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), the agency has no other significant funding source than state-issued bonds.

The coronavirus crisis has blocked the usual method of gathering of ballot initiative signatures at shopping malls and other public locations. The campaign said earlier it needed another 35,000 signatures to hit its goal of 950,000. The legal requirement is only 623,212 but many signatures are disqualified as invalid, sometimes as high as 50 percent.

Another obstacle involves officials in the state’s 58 counties, who must certify the signatures. Most, if not all, are short-staffed because of the coronavirus and/or must provide a working environment that is likely to slow the signature count. If the count is not completed by June 15, the stem cell measure will not be on the November ballot and the agency will begin closing its doors.

Ed’s Note: David Jensen is a retired newsman who has followed the affairs of the $3 billion California stem cell agency since 2005 via his blog, the California Stem Cell Report, where this story first appeared. He has published more than 4,000 items on California stem cell matters in the past 15 years. 


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