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Stem-cell advocate promotes global funding model for research

Bob Klein, author of Prop. 71 — which created the California Institute of Regenerative Medicine — said it’s time for a new model in funding scientific research, during remarks at an oncology symposium Thursday at UC San Diego.

Also at the 11th annual Industry/Academia Translational Oncology Symposium, UCSD alum Brian Druker was honored with the Duane Roth Memorial Award for his work creating Gleevec, a drug that cures chronic myeloid leukemia.

With federal funding for scientific research at its lowest level as a share of gross domestic product since 1956, Klein promoted a joint partnership funding model, as well as more government funding for organizations such as the National Institutes of Health.

Klein is spearheading such a collaboration, where 22 partners — including 14 nations, the NIH and the state of California — commit to long-term funding for research on stem cells and genomics via a World Bank bond. The money invested by each partner would be used to fund work by that entity.

“Essentially, if we can get three to four nations to lead, we could probably have the rest fall in place,” said Klein, president of Klein Financial Corporation. “And just to give you a factor of the multiplier effect between critical funds upfront in the process, $100 million in bonds at the World Bank borrowing rate creates about $2.5 billion in bonds that are supported.”

He said if Congress would appropriate a long-term commitment to support this international bond, the research community could leverage it up to a $100 billion program with surplus funds about 35 to 40 percent more than what each individual country or partner could raise from the same amount of money.

“We have the potential to really accelerate science with international collaboration,” he said. “Really leverage, in our case, California’s funds, which is what I was after in creating these partnerships, so we could get to patients faster, and get to the point where we get to phase 1 or phase 2 trials where major biotech and pharma companies can then pick it up and fund the hugely expensive phase 3 trials. We can really drive it to that faster by collaborating.”

Rep. Scott Peters (D-San Diego), who interviewed Klein before presenting Druker with his award, said he proposes boosting NIH’s funding from its current $30 billion level to about $40 billion, putting it more in line with the GDP, though he noted that it would be “a big lift” and difficult to accomplish.

While different disease communities often compete for these limited funds, Klein, Peters and Druker all extolled the benefits that investing in any oncology or medical research has on other seemingly unrelated areas. Gleevec, the name Novartis markets Druker’s kinase inhibitor drug Imatinib, is a perfect example.

Druker said Imatinib was originally created for, and solely tested on, the roughly 5,000 Americans diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukemia (CML) every year. But once it was proven effective, Imatinib has since been shown to also treat gastrointestinal stromal tumors, hypereosinophilic syndrome and myelodysplastic syndrome, among other diseases.

Klein said unifying these groups behind a single bond would go a long way in diffusing ingrained competitive attitudes toward funding.

“The fundamental problem here is that, long term, we have difficulty holding these interest groups together,” Klein said.

"In California, with Prop. 71, the way it approached that was if you have a unitary decision, you’re either for the bond or against the bond. You can’t go and say 'I want my appropriation,' you have a unitary decision — it brings all those groups together as a coalition, they have to work together.

“And I actually think on the federal level that if we could get … a federal trust that could issue long-term bonds, so it was again a unitary decision to fund science, you could go from $30 billion to $100 billion because you could consolidate all that power behind one specific goal.”

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