The Funding Debate: Why Private Wins and Government Loses

By Ryo Miller

Private vs government funding regarding human embryonic stem cell research or  hESCR for short, has been a disputed subject in America over the past decade.  There is a large proportion of researchers and citizens who believe hESCR should be funded by private companies and investors . In America’s current predicament between the morality of using embryos for research, privately funded stem cell research does have many benefits. With private funding, the restrictions on spending money and the process in which research is done will be less strict than if funded and regulated by the government. This will ultimately lead to finding cures at a faster pace.  If the morality of using embryos is taken out the equation, scientists believe that private funding is the best option because it is the best way to advance hESTR.

One of the main points private funding advocates argue is that government funding will simply take too long. The government continues to slow down hESCR progress with the back and forth on whether or not they approve its  funding and support. In the past, the government has flipped between funding and not funding hESCR because of the moral debate between using embryos for research. In 1995 The Dickey Wicker Amendment was passed by congress, which “… is an amendment attached to the appropriations bills for the Departments of Health and Human Services, Labor, and Education each year since 1996 restricting the use of federal funds for creating, destroying, or knowingly injuring human embryos”. This amendment specifically bans federal government funding of hESCR.  In 2001, President Bush also put a ban that stopped the development of new hESCR stem lines with federal money.  In 2009, Obama lifted Bush’s ban against federal funding for hESCR. Later Bush’s ban was reinstated by the federal court, only to be lifted again. This back and forth slows down the research process. Private funding will not have to deal with these issues and will lead to successful regenerative medicine in a shorter time.

hESCR became more established through state funding, but the due to public opinion on morals issues of using embryos for research, the money received from states has started to dwindle.  California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) Is the largest government funded program regarding stem cell research in america. They were created out from California’s prop 71 which was passed in 2004 letting California spend 3 billion dollars over the next 10 years on stem cell research. They have done very well in the past decade and have won numerous awards. Under state legislature they have been permitted to research embryonic stem cells.  CIRM’s hESCR department is where they have won a large majority of their awards. However CIRM’s funding for hESCR has been going down.

Maryland Stem Cell Research Fund, which is Maryland’s state funded stem cell research program has also followed the same trend. Public opinion around hESCR has led to the decrease of its funding.

Government regulation around federal spending is slowing down hESCR in two of the most dominant stem cell research companies in america. If these two companies were privately funded they could focus more on hESCR, without the effects of public and government opinion.

In an article from Life Site News, a republican health website, speak about how hESCR has gone down in these two companies.  “A report on the funding in California and Maryland written by the Charlotte Lozier Institute – the research arm of the Susan B. Anthony List – has found that the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) and the state government of Maryland are funding far more adult stem cell research projects, while hESCR has decreased nearly to nothing.”  While the article is written by an anti-hESCR advocate, that doesn’t take away from the fact the public opinion does affect government spending regarding hESCR. Screen Shot 2015-01-21 at 10.02.55 PM (This graph shows the awards given to CIRM regarding the field of study, Embryonic being a far front runner) Screen Shot 2015-01-21 at 10.04.48 PM (This graph shows CIRM’s funding regarding field of study.)

The two graphs above are taken from CIRM’s website. It doesn’t make sense that to slow down the funding of hESCR, when it is obviously their most successful field of study. Maryland has seen an even more prominent digression. They went from giving out approximately 38 grants to hESCR in their first 3 years compared to approximately 12 grants in the past 4 years. Government funding for hESCR has been going on a downward trend, and if society wants to unlock the potential of embryonic stem cells, private funding will definitely bring us closer to reaching that goal in a smaller amount of time. Screen Shot 2015-01-21 at 10.05.34 PM (Graph grants given out by Marylands Stem Cell Research Fund)

There are around the same number of states that are against funding hESCR as there are states who fund hESCR. This dispute has not seen much improvement over the past years and seems to just be going back and forth between republican and democratic parties. The argument against government funding due to political dispute is one of the most valid arguments made by the supporters of private funding. If a person believes in advancing hESCR, private funding is the stronger option. Screen Shot 2015-01-21 at 10.07.03 PM Screen Shot 2015-01-21 at 10.07.46 PM (This map & key shows the divide across america regarding hESCR)

Another important point in the scientists argument is that the government has less regulation on what private companies do. If it is privately funded the government will have less control on making policies around their research, which can be either a good or bad thing depending on the policy and your view on the subject. Private companies and investors think that this will ultimately speed up the process in which cures will be found. Like it or not, hESCR will continue in America because of the extremely high potential of new medicines that could be generated. at the current pace, it doesn’t make sense to use government funding if they will eventually find the same cures as private funding, just a few years later.

There is a suggestion among proponents of privately funded research that it will not only be more efficient but more cost effective. Although this could make stem cell treatments less available to the majority of citizens. If the companies manage to patent their cure or cures, the treatment may cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to receive. However it is unlikely that the US government would allow that to happen. Even with this information, it is important to realize that a found cure won’t only be controlled by one company after it has been on the market, and the price will drop.

There are obvious benefits to privately funding hESCR. Considering all the benefits weighed against potential costs, if the end product of regenerative medicine using hESC was reasonably priced, private funding would be our best bet. Private funding will lead to a cure in a faster period of time. Let wealthy companies pay for research. They will benefit but so will the general public. I don’t see regenerative medicine being too expensive after the first few years or so, and even if it is, an expensive cure now that will get cheaper still outweighs no cure at all. I’m sure that families with suffering members would much rather see an $80,000 cure in two years, than a $10,000 cure in six.  If we take a step back and look at this issue as the lives we can save instead of issues around money, developing hESCR is the important issue here. There is some overlay in between private and government funding advocates. Their goal is to advance hESCR, whether it be government or private. If that is the top priority, given our current situation, private funding will be the best bet for the future of hESCR.

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