An initiative that would give California’s stem cell agency $5.5 billion has qualified for the November ballot, state election officials confirmed Monday.

The background: The California Institute for Regenerative Medicine — the state’s one-of-a-kind stem cell agency —was created with $3 billion from a 2004 initiative, but it has been running out of money. CIRM is expected to begin closing its doors later this year if the agency fails to receive additional funding.

Proponents have argued the agency needs more time to develop stem cell therapies to treat such devastating conditions as multiple sclerosis, Huntington’s disease and spinal cord injuries.

Objections: CIRM has received criticism for failing to fund any stem cell treatments that are available for widespread use. Research conducted by the agency has led to two therapies approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, but those are considered more conventional blood cancer treatments as opposed to stem cell therapies. Critics have questioned whether taxpayers should continue to foot the bill to fund the agency’s work.

What’s next: Voters are expected to decide Nov. 3 whether to continue funding the agency. Nearly 60 percent of voters approved the plan to create and fund the agency 16 years ago. But the Covid-19 pandemic and ensuing economic crisis pose a challenging environment for ballot measures as voters must weigh competing public priorities.

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