By Don C. Reed

What if there was a speech so powerful that it might help solve America’s most pressing financial problems– and ease the suffering of millions— would you want to hear it?

First, consider the greatest threat to the economy today: chronic disease.

An estimated 109 million Americans (roughly one in three) have one or more incurable illnesses or disabilities.  This matters: for whether you are sick or not, you pay the increased insurance rates and taxes needed to provide their endless care.

In 2009, chronic disease cost America $1.65 trillion, equaling the national debt ($1.60 trillion) for that same amount of time:

This is more than all federal income taxes combined: ($1.4 trillion, in 2010) combined.,,id=102886,00.html

Can any medical system—any nation– absorb such costs?

Unless we plan to abandon our loved ones, there is only one way to reduce that mountain of medical debt: research for cure. We must eliminate the diseases.

But how do we pay for the research?

That is where “The Speech” comes in. I have listened to it nine times* so far. It’s that important.
Ignore the boring title:  “A New Governmental and Philanthropic Paradigm for Funding Stem Cell Research”.

It was written and delivered by Bob Klein, who began California’s stem cell program.

This is an amazing man. All his life he has been trying to make the world a better place.

Before he even knew what a stem cell was, Klein helped establish a low-income housing program, the highly successful California Housing Finance Agency. The program provides low-cost loans, so poor people can have a chance to rent a decent home at an affordable cost in a good neighborhood, and moderate-income Californians can afford to buy their own home.  (Importantly, although he owns a real estate business, Klein Financial, which develops low income housing, Klein has never taken a single loan or grant from the program, refusing to profit from what he built.)

Father of a son with type one diabetes, he helped raise $1.5 billion for juvenile diabetes research.

He wrote, organized and led California’s Proposition 71, which became the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, (CIRM) the largest stem cell research program on earth.

And now?

He challenges every state and nation to take a hand in the battle against chronic disease, and offers a concrete way this may be done—without raising taxes.

Here are key selections from “the speech”.

First, can the old way of funding medical research take care of the problem?

“I believe the financial situation in the United States and Europe will crush the traditional funding model for medical research. At very best we may be able to maintain current levels of funding, but these will inevitably decline with inflation. The fight for resources has never been more difficult.”

So what’s the answer?

“If … the federal government will approve contingent compensation contracts, biotech companies can design a disease treatment. If it … substantially mitigates or cures the disease… (the company) will receive a percentage of the savings for 30 or 40 years.

“What happens? You’ve just unleashed hundreds of billions of dollars… (This could) …incentivize business with hundreds of billions of dollars of potential payments spread over a long time period, spread over 30 or 40 years…”

Which brings us to the “why should they do it?” question. If “Big Pharma” is making tons of money off people being sick all their lives, why should they care about cure?

But if they got a piece of the governmental savings…

”.. the interest of (the companies) would be the same as the patients, the same as the scientists, the same as the government…the ultimate goal is to cure, or at least substantially mitigate…”

The government would pay companies only as they produce measureable steps toward cure: bringing us closer to the day when we don’t have to pay for the cost of the disease or disability.

“Federal contracts (would depend on) the company reducing medical costs…

How much money could we save, by curing even just one chronic disease?

“In 1955, it was estimated that by 2005, it would cost $100 billion dollars a year just to keep victims of polio in iron lungs in buildings designed solely for that purpose. (But with the polio vaccine) all of that cost has been avoided…”

Can a new approach free up major research funding?  Klein points to the Golden State.

“The California stem cell program was approved by the voters for $6 billion dollars, three billion for the research and three for the interest.”

How was such an expensive program possible, in the midst of a recession?

“…California’s Prop 71 (was structured to) require no general fund payments in the first five years. And the revenue created by the new jobs will carry the general obligation bond payments… through approximately the ninth year.”

How is the program doing financially?

“California model agency has now committed approximately $1.3 billion. It has attracted an additional $1 billion in matching grants during the time the first $500 million was distributed…”

Philanthropists saw that here was a long-range program. They gave big-dollar donations to a program that would leverage their gifts into a legacy of success: genuine therapy advances against chronic disease and injury.

Today, there are twelve new stem cell research centers up and down the state…

Obstacles remain.

“So the question then, is where are we going to get the political will… we have to realize the media environment we’re living in is relatively devoid…of information on what you do as scientists or advocates.

“Chris Mooney in his book UNSCIENTIFIC AMERICA said that for every five hours of cable TV news, less than one minute is devoted to science…

“Between 1998 and 2005, (roughly) 65% of all science writers in this country (saw their jobs eliminated)…

“In 2008 CNN laid off its entire science and technology staff…The San Jose Mercury said two decades ago there were 150 papers with science sections. Today there are twenty left. The U.S. National Association of Science Writers has 3,000 members… (but) only 70 are full time…

“So how are we going to get the message out there and mobilize the public to support biotech, to support new research funding models?

“We have a remarkable task in front of us. But with Proposition 71 we handled a very tough subject. We put scientists on the television. We mobilized the patient advocates.

“Clearly, it was impossible to pass $6 billion dollars of funding authorization: $3 billion for the research and $3 billion for the interest on the bonds over 35 years. Clearly, it was it impossible to do.  But the patient advocates and scientists got together— and it happened.

“We have a huge job to do. You are the revolution. Scientists and advocates… are leaders in the stem cell revolution… We must get the scientific communities in every media market, in every state, in every country to reach out. Don’t wait for someone to interview you… You’ve got to go to the media and educate them on science.

“We have to aggressively engage the media… so there’s a broad public understanding of the value of (stem cells) to every family and every child in this country— or we’re going to get run over by this financial crisis.

“And that engagement needs to start yesterday, because we all ‘have promises to keep, and miles to go before we sleep’. (–Robert Frost, “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening”.)

“We are the hope of an entire generation. We’re the hope that in this narrow window of opportunity, a revolution in medical care will not be crushed by an economic cycle.

“Because we, you and I, have children and families and people who we would give our every breath to rescue from suffering— suffering that may within a decade prove to be largely unnecessary. Thank you.”


*To read the speech, go to I am indebted to Beth Drain, of Barristers’ Reporting Service, Costa Mesa, California, for kindly volunteering her transcribing services.


To hear it, go to, in the keynote addresses: “A New Governmental and Philanthropic Paradigm for Funding Stem Cell Research” by Bob Klein.

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