by stem cell policy, Clark suspends Bio-X gift
Founder of Netscape, SGI protests Bush administration's
BY MARK SHWARTZ
Two weeks ago, biochemistry Professor Jim Spudich received shocking news
from university President John Hennessy: Silicon Valley entrepreneur Jim
Clark had decided to withhold part of the $150 million he had pledged to
Stanford in 1999 to launch Bio-X -- an interdisciplinary program in bioengineering,
biomedicine and the biosciences.
Clark said he was outraged by President Bush's Aug. 9 decision to limit
human embryonic stem cell research, and equally dismayed at a bill recently
passed by the U.S. House of Representatives banning therapeutic cloning
of human embryos. Clark told Hennessy that, in protest, he would suspend
a portion of his promised donation to Stanford and issue a public denunciation
of the White House and Congress.
When I heard the news, I was stunned, recalled Spudich, co-director
of Bio-X. We had just met with Clark a few weeks earlier.
Clark formally announced his decision to withhold 40 percent of his initial
$150 million pledge in an Aug. 31 New York Times op-ed piece titled Squandering
Our Technological Future.
Lately, stem cell research and cloning have caught the attention of
Washington, wrote Clark, the founder of Netscape, Silicon Graphics,
Healtheon and myCFO.
Driven by ignorance, conservative thinking and fear of the unknown,
our political leaders have undertaken to make laws that suppress this type
of research, he noted. While only a portion of Stanford's plans
involve stem cells, I believe research that uses them is vital to the future
of medicine. I am therefore suspending $60 million of my remaining pledge
pending the outcome of ongoing political deliberations.
Although the long-term impact of Clark's protest on the national stem cell
debate is uncertain, his surprise announcement would not derail Stanford's
Bio-X program, according to university officials.
While we are saddened by Mr. Clark's decision, we are deeply grateful
for the $90 million he already has committed to the James H. Clark Center
Engineering and Sciences, and we appreciate his strong feelings on this
subject, said Hennessy in a written statement Aug. 31.
Clark, who already had given $60 million to Bio-X since his original pledge,
has promised an additional $30 million, for a total of $90 million. That
amount, combined with another $60 million from an anonymous donor, will
be enough to complete the Clark Center, now budgeted at $146.6 million.
Construction of the 225,000-square-foot Clark Center is underway,
Hennessy noted. When occupied in 2003, the center will accommodate
about 50 faculty from a wide range of disciplines. Mr. Clark's initial $90
million gift will allow us to continue to build this vital center and accelerate
important interdisciplinary research at Stanford.
Added Hennessy, we are hopeful that continued progress in stem cell
research, combined with compelling clinical applications, will lead to an
evolution of government policy and eventually to a resumption of the funding
of Mr. Clark's pledge to Stanford.
Without Clark's $90 million, the project would have been crippled,
says Spudich, noting that it was in his role as university provost that
Hennessy secured the original $150 million commitment from Clark in October
1999 -- at the time the largest single donation to Stanford since the founding
Clark and Hennessy have known each other for more than 20 years, since the
two were colleagues in the Department of Electrical Engineering. When he
announced his gift nearly two years ago, Clark said he felt indebted to
the university because, as a Stanford professor in the early 1980s, he had
been allowed to develop technologies that later brought him commercial success.
The original vision for Bio-X is unchanged by Clark's decision,
commented chemical engineering Professor Channing Robertson, co-director
of Bio-X. What has changed is our ability to go beyond the Clark Center
and to continue funding programmatic areas such as the Bio-X Interdisciplinary
Initiatives and the Core Shared Facilities.
Last year, Bio-X awarded more than $3 million for 19 interdisciplinary faculty
research projects. Another $7 million in matching grants was awarded to
build and upgrade 17 core research facilities to be shared by Stanford faculty
and students throughout the campus. All of these projects will be fully
funded, said Spudich, but new grants will have to be put on hold until new
funding is found.
It's clear that we'll need to do
more fundraising to close the $60 million gap, Spudich observed.
We have begun a series of meetings with [Vice President of Development]
John Ford and the deans of the three schools overseeing Bio-X -- Engineering,
Medicine and Humanities and Sciences -- to launch a new fundraising campaign.
At a press conference in Beckman Center on Aug. 31, Spudich and Stanford
Nobel laureate Paul Berg assured reporters that stem cell research at
the university would move forward.
Stanford is poised to be at the cutting edge in this area of research,
commented Berg, the Robert W. and Vivian K. Cahill Professor of Cancer
Research, Emeritus. It has been essentially awaiting the release
of federal funds for that purpose, and I don't see that Mr. Clark's statement
in any way is going to impede that progress.
Berg said Clark's decision could produce a wavelet or a tidal wave
of public reaction.
Maybe Clark's thing will essentially shake people up, he added,
noting that the U.S. Senate begins hearings on federally funded stem cell
research on Sept. 5.
Spudich told reporters that Bio-X is a much bolder and broader effort
than stem cell research, encompassing such emerging fields as single-molecule
analysis, biophysics, tissue engineering, biocomputation, robotics and
molecular and cellular imaging.
My feeling is everything is going to be just fine, Spudich
added. Stanford has proven over and over again its ability to raise
very large amounts of money on very short notice. I'm the eternal optimist.