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Friday, August 27, 2004 (AP)
Gates, others lead California effort for stem cell research
PAUL ELIAS, AP Biotechnology Writer


   (08-27) 00:12 PDT SAN FRANCISCO (AP) --
   Silicon Valley tycoons, Nobel laureates and Hollywood celebrities 
are
backing a measure on California's Nov. 2 ballot to devote $3 billion to
human embryonic stem cell experiments in what would be the biggest ever
state-supported scientific research program in the country.
   The measure -- designed to get around the Bush administration's
restrictions on the funding of such research -- would put California at
the very forefront of the field. It would dwarf all current stem cell
projects in the United States, whether privately or publicly financed.
   Proposition 71 promises to be one of the most contentious election 
issues
in California, pitting scientists, sympathetic patients who could 
benefit
from stem cells and biotechnology interests against the Roman Catholic
Church and conservatives opposed to the research because it involves
destroying days-old embryos and cloning.
   What's more, cell research has emerged as a major campaign issue 
between
President Bush and John Kerry, who promises if elected to reverse Bush's
2001 policy restricting federal funding of such experiments to only 
those
cell lines already in existence.
   The measure would authorize the state to sell $3 billion in bonds 
and then
dispense nearly $300 million a year for 10 years to researchers for 
human
embryonic stem cell experiments, including cloning projects intended
solely for research purposes. It bans the funding of cloning to create
babies.
   The amount of money involved far exceeds the $25 million the 
federal
government doled out last year for such research and surpassed even
Kerry's promise to expand funding to $100 million annually.
   Many scientists believe stem cells hold vast promise for treating 
an array
of diseases from diabetes to Parkinson's. Stem cells can potentially 
grow
into any type of human tissue and scientists hope to be able to direct 
the
blank cells to grow into specific cell types needed for transplant.
   Stem cells are harvested from embryos, which are destroyed in the 
process.
They were first discovered in 1997 and even the research's most
enthusiastic supporters acknowledge that medicines created with stem 
cells
are still many years away.
   Some 22 Nobel laureates and many other scientists support 
Proposition 71
as a way to get around the Bush administration restrictions. They 
complain
that the political climate has brought the field to a virtual standstill
in the United States.
   Many expect Proposition 71 to instantly breathe new life into the 
field
while also boosting California's biotechnology industry.
   "Stem cell-based therapies have the potential to alleviate 
suffering for
millions of Americans," said Leonard Zon, president of the International
Society for Stem Cell Research. "If this proposition is accepted, it 
will
place California at the forefront of stem cell research and therapies."
   The vote could be close: An independent poll released Aug. 15 found 
that
45 percent of likely voters questioned were in favor of the measure, 42
percent were opposed and 13 percent undecided.
   The pro-Proposition 71 side has raised far more money than the anti 
camp:
more than $10 million versus just $15,000, according to campaign finance
records filed this week.
   Among those bankrolling the measure is Bill Gates, who contributed
$400,000 on Monday. Silicon Valley tycoons such as Google investor John
Doerr and eBay founder Pierre Omidyar have donated millions.
   Real estate developer Robert Klein II has donated $2 million. 
Klein's son
suffers from juvenile diabetes.
   Several prominent Republicans have also endorsed the research, most
notably former first lady Nancy Reagan. Also, millionaire developer 
Thomas
Coleman, a regular contributor to GOP candidates, has donated $378,000.
Coleman's daughter has diabetes.
   The measure has also been endorsed by actors Michael J. Fox, who 
has
Parkinson's, and Christopher Reeve, who was paralyzed in a riding
accident.
   Opponents of Proposition 71 concede they will be fortunate if they 
raise
$1 million by November. They said they will have to wage a small-scale
campaign even as the pro-Proposition 71 side prepares to open a TV
advertising blitz.
   "This is something that was put on the ballot by venture 
capitalists and
people who stand to benefit," said opposition campaign manager Wayne
Johnson. "The more voters find out about this measure, the more they'll
turn against it."
   State budget hawks, including the California Republican Party, 
oppose the
measure because it would sink the state deeper into debt.
   Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has not taken a position on Proposition 
71, and
many predict he will not do so. Schwarzenegger has said he supports 
human
embryonic stem cell research, but he has also vowed to stop California's
slide into debt.

On the Net:
   Yes on 71: www.curesforcalifornia.com
   No on 71: www.noonprop71.org

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Copyright 2004 AP