Sunday, January 01, 2006

Patent royalties and Proposition 71 on stem cells

We've discussed patent royalties and California's Proposition 71 on IPBiz. From the Weekly Standard, Vol. 11, issue 16:

For years, human cloning has been promoted through propaganda techniques of misrepresentation, exaggeration, and false hope for the suffering. Take the profoundly deceptive $35 million political campaign that last year convinced California voters to pass Proposition 71, authorizing the state to borrow $3 billion to subsidize research into somatic cell nuclear transfer cloning and embryonic stem cells. In order to induce wary voters to endorse billions more in debt despite the red ink flowing catastrophically out of California's coffers, proponents promised that the state would one day garner a bounteous return from royalty and tax payments, perhaps eventually recouping all the money borrowed to fund the initial research. (Voters should have asked themselves why, if this were true, the state's numerous venture capitalists hadn't been clever enough to fork over the $3 billion.)

Thus Robert Klein, the driving force behind the initiative and now head of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, assured voters that universities and private firms receiving grants would share $1 billion or more in royalties with the state. But, as reported by the San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere after the election, it now appears that little, if any, royalty money will ever be returned to the state. "What Klein knew before the election was that such royalty--sharing by the state might be hampered by federal regulations, according to an attorney who helped Klein draft the initiative," the Chronicle reported. "Yet he didn't tell voters."

That wasn't all. When opponents of Proposition 71 asserted in the official ballot arguments that the initiative would subsidize human cloning, the pro--71 campaign sued to prevent the argument from being mentioned in the state's voter election guide-even though the initiative explicitly created a state constitutional right to conduct human somatic cell nuclear transfer, the scientific name for a human cloning technique. (The judge saw right through the ruse, and ruled that human cloning was at the heart of the initiative.)

Then there is the ongoing hype about the medical potential of cloning, which reached cruel heights in the wake of President Reagan's death from Alzheimer's disease. Using the widespread public mourning for Reagan as a backdrop, human cloning advocates argued that Alzheimer's could be cured if only the impediments to federally funded embryonic stem cell research were pushed out of the way.

In fact, though, Alzheimer's disease is extremely unlikely to be effectively treated with stem cells, whether cloned or natural. As Washington Post science reporter Rick Weiss allowed in a June 10, 2004, article, "the infrequently voiced reality, stem cell experts confess, is that, of all the diseases that may someday be cured by embryonic stem cell treatments, Alzheimer's is among the least likely to benefit." This is because Alzheimer's is a whole brain disease that "involves the loss of huge numbers and varieties of the brain's 100 billion nerve cells-and countless connections, or synapses, among them."

If stem cells have little "practical potential to treat Alzheimer's," why do proponents of cloned--embryo research continue to invoke a cure for Alzheimer's in their sales pitches? Weiss quoted Ronald D.G. McKay, a stem cell researcher at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke: "To start with, people need a fairy tale. Maybe that's unfair, but they need a story line that's relatively simple to understand."

So where are we in the cloning debate? At this point, we don't know whether human cloning has been successfully accomplished or not. We don't know whether embryonic stem cells have been derived from cloned embryos. We don't know to what depths the dishonesty of the seemingly most successful researcher in the field actually descended.

We do know that cloning proponents in this country are avid in their desire for billions in federal and state money to pay for morally problematic and highly speculative research that the private sector generally shuns. And we do know that some advocates of this public policy agenda are more than willing to play fast and loose with the facts in order to get their way. In short, the human cloning agenda is falling into public disrepute-and for that, proponents of the agenda have no one to blame but themselves.


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