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The public uproar about high drug prices has focused on outlandish cases such as single pills jacked up in price by 5,000%, miracle cures marketed for tens of thousands of dollars per treatment.

But how will people feel when they're confronted with treatments that are even more astronomically expensive?

That's certain to become a growing concern at California's incubator of some of the most advanced and potentially costly medical therapies under development. Biotech companies have launched late-stage clinical trials that could lead to federal approval of two marketable treatments backed by CIRM, the state's $6-billion stem cell program.

If successful, they'll be firsts for the program, which is formally known as the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine. But they may also put CIRM smack in the middle of a burgeoning debate over how to ensure access for all patients to life-enhancing or life-saving cures.

"If Californians don't have ready access to CIRM-produced stem cell therapies, to me that's a problem," says Paul Knoepfler, a cell biologist at UC Davis and a CIRM grantee. "At some point, someone's going... see more