by Don C. Reed
The most important matter on the ballot is of course the Presidency; but I am a Democrat, so no surprises there. My concern is for the second most important issue. Here’s why:
On November 3rd, California faces a life/death stem cell decision.
Life and death? Do I exaggerate? Ask yourself one simple question:
What is the number one killer in the world today? According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH):
“Chronic diseases are responsible for seven out of 10 deaths in the U.S., killing more than 1.7 million Americans each year…” (1)
And the financial cost of all that disease? Roughly $3 trillion dollars… (2)
Somebody tell me now, that chronic disease is not a life and death concern!
A one-word definition for “chronic” is “incurable”. But California rejects that definition, and is fighting back: using science to battle for cure.
Since 2004, California has had a beautiful stem cell program, called the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), battling chronic disease.
This is personal: cancer killed my wife Gloria, my sister Patty, and my mother Christine; paralysis afflicts my son Roman every day.
Alzheimer’s and diabetes took the mother and son of Bob Klein, California’s friend, the man who brought us the first California stem cell initiative, and who leads the battle again — to restore that funding.
Is CIRM worth defending? CIRM is already defending us!
There are 94 clinical trials going on right now — all of which CIRM had a connection with, from 30 early fundings of the research — (3)
— or direct financial assistance to 64 clinical trials (4).
The research being done is so excellent that a special federal designation (Regenerative Medicine Advanced Therapy Designation) RMAT was granted to seven CIRM projects, dealing with cellular therapies. There were also two FDA breakthrough designations: one for cancer, the other for an immunological condition.
This is no empty honor; it means the possibility of getting relief faster to the patients: with swifter FDA approval for treatments of paralysis, kidney disease, immune disorders, blindness, cancer and more. (5)
Advanced trials are showing great promise, including type one and type two insulin-dependent diabetes trials by ViaCyte (funded by CIRM)
CIRM-funded treatments saved the lives of 50 children, who would otherwise almost certainly have died of an immune disorder, the “bubble baby” disease.
Evangelina Vaccaro, victorious (with the help of science!) over the dread “bubble baby” disease.
It also achieved two FDA-approved treatments for blood cancer therapies.
Check out the campaign headquarters: www.caforcures.com.
Or, go to the program itself: www.cirm.ca.gov. See where the money went.
There is a short cut. On your search bar, put the name of the disease, followed by fact sheet CIRM:
For example: If you put: “Leukemia fact sheet CIRM”, Google will take you to:
There you will find summaries of scientists’ fights against this liquid cancer, their individual grants, and the total for leukemia: $193,464,356.00.
One hundred ninety-three million, four hundred sixty-four thousand, three hundred fifty-six thousand dollars…That’s the sort of funding that will win the war against leukemia, step by step, by scientists like Catriona Jamieson of UCSD..
Unfortunately… the money is almost gone.
And there is our decision: do we continue the fight, or sit back and surrender?
November 3rd is decision day — — unless you vote early — which I did!
It was exciting!
As soon as the precious vote-by-mail envelope arrived, I went to the kitchen table, and went over the ballot, checking off the boxes I knew something about.
And what is the second-most most important issue on the ballot?
OBVIOUSLY — Proposition 14: the California Stem Cell Research, Treatments and Cures Initiative of 2020.
I love Prop 14!!! That is a triple exclamation mark issue for me! If I had to, I would walk to Sacramento to put in my vote for Prop 14!
It is not so difficult as that, fortunately. All I had to do was fill out the ballot, stick it in the envelope, seal it — and sign on the outside where I was supposed to.
Then I ran up to the post office, where BIG BLUE was waiting for me: the mailbox, massive, secured to the concrete, BIG BLUE, containing the hopes and dreams of all who cared enough to vote.
I stood there a moment, savoring the moment, just a little worried I might do something wrong.
This had to be done right. It was for my state, our country, and the world.
If Prop 14 wins, the battle continues strong: against cancer, arthritis, Alzheimer’s disease, leukemia, Parkinson’s disease, sickle cell anemia, multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, Huntington’s disease, liver malfunction, blindness, deafness, heart disease, schizophrenia, autism and so much more — conditions we must fight, to protect our loved ones — and to help our California and national economy recover from the COVID-19 crisis!
I opened the Big Blue mailbox, slid in the sealed envelope, released my grip.
CLUNK. Done. I walked home, content.
Success on Prop 14 depends on the actions of dedicated individuals, like you.
What can you do, to insure continued funding for California’s stem cell program?
Thanks to the electronic miracle of the weblog, you can influence the decision up to the last minute. I will send out my last weblog on the morning of November 3rd, the official day of voting.
Contact your email chain!
Also, and this may sound primitive… talk to people! Ask people you meet, “Hey, how about that Prop 14, the Stem cell Initiative?”
Share some enthusiasm — this is incredible stuff!
Don’t fall into the trap of thinking you have to know everything before you speak. Think of all those people who know nothing, but still talk constantly — what you have to say is important!
Besides, you can never know everything about a subject as vast and ever-changing as stem cell research,
If somebody asks you a question but you don’t know the answer, just admit it.
“Good question, I don’t know — but go to the campaign’s website—www.caforcures.com, they will know.”
How important is a suggestion from a stranger? Very. If people do not know an issue, they could make up their mind because one person who took the trouble to bring it up. Everyone likes enthusiasm — they will care because you care.
Sometimes I say, “Hey, they’re fighting back against cancer, paralysis Alzheimer’s — all that stuff. If it hurts people, they’re fighting it!”
But maybe you live in another state, so you can’t vote on Prop14? Write a letter or email to your friend/relation who does live in California, tell him/her to be sure and vote YES on Prop 14 — don’t forget, Prop 14, that’s a big yes on 14!!!
I make it a commitment to talk to at least one person a day about Prop 14 — not much! But if the vote totals get close, think how valuable that single vote could be.
Never forget 2000, when the Presidency was decided by just 538 votes, and we got George Bush instead of Al Gore? Every vote matters — and yours could be the one that takes us over the top!
Also, never be afraid to ask a busy person! The worst you can get is a no — and you might get a yes from someone who really knows what they are doing.
For instance, I love to see statements of support from CIRM board members, arguably the busiest folk on the planet.
“Several of you have asked me why I am in favor of Prop 14, and I thought you might be interested in my rationale. I’m writing this as a California scientist and researcher… (For full disclosure, I am on the board of CIRM).
“Prop. 14 is about authorizing $5.5 billion to keep our stem cell research program going. This is critical: to bring this innovative science all the way to patients is a very challenging endeavor: requiring cutting edge research, complex manufacturing, regulatory approval, etc.
“Public money is essential because the risks are too high for a classical Venture Capital funding model. If government does not step in, very little will happen.
“The CIRM has a variety of people on its board: academics, industry executives, patient advocates… I really believe that a public agency like them can make good decisions with public money…
“CIRM’s track record is impressive, including 2 FDA approved drugs and 64 clinical trials. (See full list at https://www.cirm.ca.gov/clinical-trials.)
“So a lot more is coming, but it just takes time. A few examples: Phase 3 trials in ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease), Phase 2 in Retinitis Pigmentosa, etc.
“In sum, this measure will serve important unmet medical needs. “
— Anne-Marie Duliege, MD, board member, CIRM.
Remember the great Helen Keller, blind and deaf, but a champion advocate for research and human rights?
She said: “I long to accomplish a great and noble task. But it is my chief duty to accomplish small tasks as if they were great and noble.”
Which reminds me of a story…
It was the first day I met Bob Klein, inventor of the stem cell program.
It was April, 2003. Bob walked with me back to meet some of the Prop 71 campaign workers — three connected rooms full, counters piled high with empty pizza boxes — and then he rushed off for a phone meeting.
I looked around at all these busy people, young, enthusiastic, laughing as they did chores to make the stem cell program a reality. I turned to a woman named Amy Daley and asked, was there something I could do to help, right now?
And she said:
“We were supposed to have clipboards for the signature gatherers, but they did not arrive. But we do have all these empty pizza boxes — if somebody would take a razor blade and cut the boxes into squares for backing…???
I went home with a blood blister on my thumb, but just blissfully happy.
You should see all the great people I work with now, on the Prop 14 campaign — some of them just scary talented, and modern-minded like you would not believe. They use phones like super-computers — I can barely answer my little flip phone.
But still I can do something.
And I will.
VOTE YES! on Proposition 14 — and ask a friend to do the same.
1. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov › pmc › articles › PMC5876976
Don C. Reed is the author of: REVOLUTIONARY THERAPIES: How the California Stem Cell Program Eased Suffering, Saved Lives and Changed the Face of Medicine Forever”, World Scientific Publishing, 2020.