Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Push for Ballot Review of Stem Cell Agency

California's most influential legislator on stem cell issues is pushing hard to place on the November ballot her bipartisan measure to tighten oversight and accountability of the stem cell agency.

The proposed constitutional amendment by Sen. Deborah Ortiz, D-Sacramento, is scheduled to come before the Senate Election, Reapportionment and Constitutional Amendment Committee Wednesday(5-18).

Approval is not assured, but it is important for the proposal (SCA13) to clear the committee early because of deadlines for measures for the special election that the governor is expected to call for November.

Ortiz' measure, which requires 2/3 approval of both houses, would tighten conflict of interest standards for the agency and ensure that the agency and its working groups would be subject to state open meeting and open record laws.

An analysis of the bill by the committee staff said that it would go beyond CIRM's recently adopted conflict-of-interest standards. The measure would impose on the chair, vice chair and members of the ICOC (the Oversight Committee), the president of the institute, and members of Prop. 71 working groups standards identical to those of the NIH that have triggered the resignations of some NIH scientists who felt they were being penalized financially.

The legislation is also aimed at establishing "clearer and more protective standards for handling of patents and intellectual property resulting from research paid for with state funds," according to the analysis, which notes that Prop. 71 supporters have estimated that the state could receive more than $1 billion in royalties as the result of CIRM research. The measure additionally seeks to assure that lower income persons will have access to medical treatments that are developed as a result of CIRM-funded research.

No opposition is listed to Ortiz measure on the analysis, dated April 27. But it did note that the California Healthcare Institute had "concerns" about the "the timing of SCA 13 and certain provisions that will interfere with the CIRM's progress and pose obstacles to funding the best stem cell research. CHI states that working group meetings at which grant requests are reviewed and debated should be confidential; in addition, confidentiality is required to protect proprietary information contained in grant applications.

"CHI further states that applying NIH conflict of interest requirements to persons associated with the CIRM, as opposed to employed by the CIRM, is unnecessary.

"Regarding SCA 13's provisions dealing with intellectual property and licensing agreements, CHI states that the issue is being studied by the California Council on Science and Technology and the ICOC is consulting with the University of California and other research institutions on this complex issue and that requiring the state to recoup the full amount of administrative costs associated with patenting and licensing activities is premature."

In related action, the Ortiz measure (SB18) to require state audits of the agency and to protect egg donors was temporarily and routinely put aside by the Senate Appropriations Committee along with other spending measures. They will be taken up later after budget legislation is hashed over.

For more on Ortiz' proposals, see "Will California Vote Again on Stem Cell Research," April 15, on this blog. Sphere: Related Content

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