Court Rejects Legal Challenge to $3B In Stem Cell Funds

    A trial court judge moved one step closer to opening up billions of dollars in funding for stem cell research by rejecting a challenge to California’s $3 billion stem cell initiative.

    The lawsuit, filed by two taxpayer groups, contested the constitutionality of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, which they said did not include adequate state oversight when it was created by the voter-approved Proposition 71 in 2004.

    The court battle has tied up money meant for the state stem cell agency, which was slated to receive $300 million annually for the next decade from the institute. The ruling, however, frees up that funding, which institute officials hope to use to move research forward.

    In their lawsuit, the groups claimed that the institute, funded by taxpayers, was not under proper state control. Judge Bonnie Sabraw, however, rejected the reasoning.

    “Plaintiffs did not present any evidence that the state is appropriating funds for any purpose or benefit other than a public purpose — the public purpose declared in Proposition 71 of fighting disease and promoting the general economy of the state,” she wrote. Sabraw also rebuffed other claims by the groups, which included conflicts of interest within the agency’s steering committee.

    For example, UCSD Vice Chancellor of Health Sciences Edward W. Holmes is both a member of the institute’s independent oversight committee and a proponent of the new La Jolla stem cell research consortium, which includes UCSD, the Burnham Institute, the Salk Institute and the Scripps Research Institute.

    The consortium is one in a long line of entities vying for money. Earlier this month, a coalition of private institutions loaned $14 million in bonds to the institute, with a few million that will be available immediately.

    The challengers are still vowing to fight the stem cell research effort, and said that they would appeal the judge’s decision. At the very least, the lawsuit puts pressure on the state to properly direct stem cell research, according to John Simpson, stem cell project director for the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights.

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