San Diego Union Tribune
October 22, 2004

Healing our people and our economy

By Edward Holmes, John C. Reed and Joe Panetta

As residents of San Diego, our city's history of medical innovation should be an enormous source of pride. California is the most scientifically advanced state in the world's most scientifically advanced nation. San Diego, in turn, is home to some of the most accomplished and influential institutions in the world: the University of California San Diego, Salk Institute for Biological Sciences, the Burnham Institute, Children's Hospital and many others.

Science investigates what's possible, what's next. Our San Diego institutions have transformed hope and hypotheticals into real treatments, eradicating diseases and developing revolutionary treatments that have revolutionized human health.

Now, however, our state stands at a crossroads. Stem cell research has the potential to treat and cure diseases that include diabetes, cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer's, Multiple Sclerosis, HIV/AIDS, Parkinson's, Lou Gehrig's disease, stroke and spinal cord injuries ... more than 70 debilitating medical conditions. Medical experts are united in considering stem cell research the most promising, far-reaching research field of the 21st century.

With the brightest minds and best research facilities, California is poised to explore this promise. In fact, 50 percent of the nation's biotechnology capacity is located right here in this state.

Political squabbling, however, has precluded the financial means and stability necessary for our institutions to invest in stem cell research. Our universities, medical schools and research facilities are reluctant to commit laboratories and intellectual resources to an underfunded field.

Proposition 71, the California Stem Cell Research and Cures Initiative, empowers the state to finally mobilize its superior research potential, installing a much needed and stable source of long-term research support. Voters will have an opportunity on Election Day to vote Yes on this important initiative.

Proposition 71 would authorize tax-free state bonds to provide $300 million per year over 10 years to support stem cell research at California's universities, medical schools and research facilities. The bonds would be self-financing during the first five years, sparing the state's general fund from any cost during this period of economic recovery.

With funding for stem cell research, California and San Diego, specifically, would spearhead the field and reap the economic benefits that would inarguably accompany life-saving cures and treatments.

While there are no guarantees, history has shown that intellectual property arising from basic research has been an important stimulus to California's economy. In San Diego alone, life-sciences research has created 37,000 jobs and $3.51 billion in annual revenues, making it the largest technology cluster in the region.

Proposition 71 would create thousands of new jobs in research and construction and has the potential to bring the state of California billions of dollars through new tax revenues, patent royalties and by reducing California's skyrocketing health care costs. California spends more on health care than any other state. If the research funded by Proposition 71 leads to new treatments or cures that reduce our health care costs by only 1 percent, the measure will more than pay for itself.

This investment in California's economy is why Proposition 71 has received far-reaching support from California's business community, including the California Chamber of Commerce, San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce, Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce, San Jose/Silicon Valley Chamber of Commerce, as well as the state's top fiscal officers, Controller Steve Westly and Treasurer Phil Angelides.

Ultimately, Proposition 71 is about saving lives. Nearly half of all Californians have a loved one suffering from a disease that could be treated with stem cell therapies. The coalition of grass-roots supporters includes more than 20 Nobel Prize-winning scientists and medical experts, business leaders and groups, faith-based organizations, more than 100 elected officials and patient advocacy groups, such as the Alzheimer's Association California Council, California Medical Association, American Nurses Association of California, American Diabetes Association, Christopher Reeve Paralysis Foundation, Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation and the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation.

California's leading scientists fully expect that breakthrough treatments will become a reality. But unless we embark on this journey of scientific discovery, the potential for stem cells to be an effective therapy in the arsenal against disease may never be realized. How incredibly fortunate that the intellectual and institutional means to do so are right in our own back yard.

Vote Yes on Proposition 71 and help California maintain its position as the most able and respected place to cure the incurable.

 Holmes is vice chancellor for health sciences and dean of the University of California San Diego School of Medicine. (Opinions expressed here are those of Dr. Holmes, not the university). Reed is president and chief executive officer of The Burnham Institute ( Panetta is president and chief executive officer of BIOCOM (