Commentary: How Prop. 14 could help find therapies and cures that might save millions of lives

The San Diego Union-Tribune
By Sandra Dillon
September 15, 2020

All of us know a family member, a friend or a loved one dealing with a chronic disease or condition — and in some instances that person may be ourselves. That was the case for me nearly two decades ago when I was diagnosed with a rare form of blood cancer called myelofibrosis.

Upon learning of my cancer diagnosis, I was left feeling helpless, afraid and searching for answers about how this disease would affect my everyday life, what I could do to fight it, and how much time I had left to live.

It is because of California’s forward-looking leadership in passing Proposition 71 in 2004 — hoping to find treatments and cures for chronic diseases and illnesses — that has allowed me to still be here today. Proposition 71 established the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) to fund stem-cell research and treatment development. It’s this initiative that led to an U.S. Food and Drug Administration-approved cancer treatment that saved my life.

This November, California voters will have an opportunity to pass Proposition 14 to continue the journey to save lives from chronic diseases and other conditions including cancer, heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, COVID-19 and more.

Since the creation of CIRM, California has made great progress on advancing research and treatments for more than 75 chronic diseases and conditions that affect millions of Californians every day. On average, it takes 12-15 years for new discoveries to progress from the lab through clinical trials; even then, a small fraction will gain FDA approval. CIRM has defied those odds. The average CIRM grant is less than 7 years old; yet, CIRM funding has led to more than 90 clinical trials and two FDA-approved lifesaving treatments for previously fatal forms of cancer, with more on the way.

While many clinical trials are still in the early stages, a few examples of the remarkable success stories include cancer patients (like me) who had exhausted all other treatment options. I am now in remission, type 1 diabetics have begun producing insulin, quadriplegics are regaining upper body function and blind patients are regaining their sight.

Many of these trials are on track to result in additional FDA-approved treatments over the next few years, and CIRM’s nearly 3,000 published medical discoveries have created the basis for more to come. But, if California voters do not pass Proposition 14, many promising treatments and cures may end here.

For the millions of Californians who live with a chronic disease or condition, this may be their last hope; advancing medical progress to fight devastating and life-threatening diseases and conditions is an urgent matter and should not be put on hold.

In California, cancer is the second leading cause of death throughout the state. It is estimated that this year alone, more than 170,000 new cancer cases will be identified, which will ultimately lead to over 60,000 deaths in the state. Furthermore, in San Diego County alone, over 50 percent of the deaths are associated with either cancer, heart disease, type 2 diabetes or lung disease — accounting for billions of dollars spent on these prevalent chronic diseases by individual families, businesses and California taxpayers.

California cannot afford not to fund Proposition 14. Through funding Proposition 14 we can seize the opportunity to continue finding therapies and cures that could potentially save the lives of millions.

Our initial investment has made us a leader in the field of stem-cell research. Our investments in infrastructure, training and equipment alone have turned our state’s universities and institutions — including the University of California San Diego, the Scripps Research Institute, the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, the Sanford Burnham Institute and San Diego State University — into epicenters for stem-cell research, creating a reality where stem-cell research has the greatest potential to advance lifesaving and life-changing cures.

The passage of Proposition 71 helped save my life. It is unimaginable to think that Californians would vote to discontinue this amazing effort — I don’t know where I would be or what condition I would be in if it wasn’t for the investment Californians made nearly two decades ago.

I know firsthand the possible treatments that Proposition 14 could bring to your life or the life of someone you love. So join me and the growing coalition of more than 80 patient advocate organizations, hundreds of leading scientists and physicians, Nobel Prize winners, senior elected officials, the California Democratic Party and University of California in voting yes on Proposition 14.

Dillon is a San Diego resident and former bone marrow patient now in remission.