Washington Editor

California Gov. Gray Davis' move to recruit more research scientists to the state by authorizing human embryonic stem cell research and offering to help pay for it is an idea that may catch on in other areas.

A few weeks ago, Davis signed legislation authored by state Sen. Deborah Ortiz, a Democrat from Sacramento, endorsing the very research that President George Bush sought to control on Aug. 9, 2001, when he limited federal funding to 72 stem cell lines that existed on that date.

And now, New Jersey state Sen. Richard Codey has introduced similar legislation.

A source familiar with the New Jersey legislature said the senator was motivated to draw up a bill upon recognizing limited efforts on the part of the federal government to encourage this research that many view as key to identifying cures and treatments for diseases such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's. While the Codey legislation does not permit cash-strapped New Jersey to financially support the research, it "expressly authorizes" the science - as long as it adheres to FDA regulations and other rules that govern it.

But the scenario is a little different in California, where research grants are possible. Ironically, two stem cell lines owned by the University of California at San Francisco that are included on Bush's list of approved lines were developed using state funds and money from Geron Corp., of Menlo Park, Calif., said Jennifer O'Brien, a spokeswoman for the university.

She told BioWorld Today that the California bill was a statement of support by the Democratic governor. "The bill tells researchers that if they come to this state, or if they are already here and have been concerned about the shakiness of the [federal] legislation and whether they are going to be able to get established, they can come here and the state government will support them."

Not a bad idea in an environment in which states compete for industry. In fact, in a prepared statement, Davis said, "With world-class universities, top-flight researchers and a thriving biomedical industry, California is perfectly positioned to be a world leader in this area. I am determined to keep California at the forefront of medical research and scientific innovation."

The California law is unique, according to Michael Werner, vice president for bioethics at the Biotechnology Industry Organization in Washington, because it permits use of state money for stem cell research. "Of course, the president's policy still applies to California - this just says that more cell lines will be available for research outside the federal parameters," Werner told BioWorld Today.

He added that California is clearly becoming a leader. "Stem cell research has always been popular, and so what California has done is set up competition because state governments that want research facilities in their states are going to have to vie for attention," he said. "The opponents of this research will try to get states to enact bans, and what this clearly says is that there are going to be states that are going to make it their policy to encourage this research."

And Debbie Hart, executive director of the Biotechnology Council of New Jersey Inc., of Trenton, told BioWorld Today that Codey's pending bill "is a great start in leading New Jersey to become a center for stem cell research. That would be terrific for New Jersey." New Jersey is home to 120 biotechnology companies.

The California legislation authorizes stem cell research from any source, including human embryonic stem cells, that is reviewed by an institutional review board. It also requires that individuals receiving infertility treatments be provided information regarding the disposition of an embryo, including the possibility of donating embryos for research, and requires written consent for embryos donated for research. The bill prohibits the sale of embryos.

The Codey legislation has similar provisions. It has not been determined when it will be called for a vote.