Some observers say CIRM lost precious time because legal challenges prevented it from getting off the ground for nearly two years.
"The initial hope was that CIRM would give California a head start," and ramp up stem cell research, said Roger Noll, professor emeritus of economics at Stanford.
Despite the delay, Noll said CIRM's legacy has yet to be written.
"CIRM spent a lot of money and there's a lot of stuff going on, but it's too early to know whether it was worth it," Noll said.
While CIRM has found its stride, it is a victim of its early supporters' hype, said John Simpson of Consumer Watchdog.
"The impression you got was, if you just passed this bond measure, Christopher Reeve will be jumping out of his wheelchair and walking next week," said Simpson, referring to the late paralyzed actor who appeared in TV ads backing Prop 71. "They're having to live down the super high expectations that they raised."
Since handing out the first pot of money in late 2006, CIRM has been dogged by questions about its grant-awarding process with critics charging that many of the awards have gone to universities associated with the agency's board. CIRM says all proposals go through peer review and board members with a stake recuse themselves. The institute employs 50 people and has an operating budget of about $18 million.
CIRM suffered a blow last year when Geron Corp. abandoned the stem cell field to concentrate on its lucrative cancer therapies instead. CIRM had loaned the company $25 million to support its spinal cord injury trial, the first embryonic stem cell trial approved in the U.S.
Though Geron paid back the amount spent plus interest, the episode put increased pressure on CIRM to support work with more practical payoff.
David Jensen, who runs the blog California Stem Cell Report, said Californians have benefited, but whether it will be worth the $6 billion the state has to pay back remains unclear.
"The agency's responsibility is now to get the biggest bang for the buck, which is no easy task given the tentative nature of much of the science involved," he said in an email.
Some think CIRM has left a mark whether or not it will exist in the future.
Its "legacy will be felt in part by the stimulus that it has had on stem cell" research in California, said Fred Gage of the Salk Institute for Biological Studies.
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