"There are policy issues involved at many stages in this process," Thomas said. "There are the policies involved in getting these efforts through the FDA and then there are going to be a whole new set of significant policy issues regarding reimbursement and coverage for some of these treatments."
"It's going to be a societal shift as well as a shift in medical science," Thomas said, adding, "It's going to take a mindset with insurers that things developed from these technologies should be covered."
He said, "You're going to see an explosion of technological development that will require policies to adapt relatively quickly. This technology's not going away."
In addition to the $40 million genomics grant, CIRM board members approved $27 million in grants for additional projects at 11 California institutions, including UC-Berkeley, UC-San Francisco, Stanford University and Gladstone Institutes.
Established in 2004 when California voters approved a ballot measure to put the state's weight behind stem cell research, CIRM is approaching the end of its tenure, as well as the end of its funding.
CIRM is authorized to generate and distribute $3 billion of funding from state bonds by the end of 2017.
Thomas and other CIRM officials are beating the bushes to find new funding streams to keep the effort afloat past 2017.
"Sustaining research and retaining the program is my highest priority," Thomas said. Thomas said he's exploring several promising possibilities but isn't prepared yet to discuss particulars. Pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies are likely candidates, according to some industry experts.
"Wherever it comes from, it's going to be a vital necessity to find alternative funds to keep the ball rolling," Thomas said. "There will be a lot of scientists out there who will have projects at mid-stream and it just wouldn't make any sense to cut them off."
Thomas is confident CIRM officials will find a way to keep funds flowing.
"Especially in light of this new genomics research. There are definitely other major genomics programs elsewhere in the world but nobody is tying it to stem cell research in the same way and I think that has great, global significance," Thomas said.
This article is reprinted from California Healthline, a free, daily online news service funded by nonpartisan California HealthCare Foundation and distributed by Associated Press.