Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Public Posturing, the "Trust Us" Position and Industry Ties

The face-off Monday between the California stem cell agency and California's most influential legislator on stem cell matters does not appear to have resolved much, at least based on news reports.

Something could be bubbling below the surface, but it is not making much of a ripple yet.

At the Monday meeting, Sen. Deborah Ortiz, D-Sacramento, argued that the agency should support her measure. Oversight Committee members were not impressed.

Reporter Dan Morain of the Los Angeles Times quoted Caltech President David Baltimore as saying, "I don't know what her motivation is. But I know the result is extremely dangerous and could undermine the whole reputation of the state as a leader in stem cell research."

Ortiz said she will press forward with a vote on SCA13 later this week. But, according to Morain, Ortiz pledged that if the Legislature's attorney or state bond attorneys tell her she is "jeopardizing bonds, or my criteria and language is too vague and will encourage litigation, I will not move the measure forward."

"I'm driven by that, but it has to be based on the attorneys I'm working with," Ortiz said.

Reporter Carl Hall of the San Francisco Chronicle wrote, "Ortiz said she hasn't ruled out the possibility of withdrawing her proposal if the stem cell institute makes the right moves, and she repeatedly promised to make any changes that are needed to clear up worries about bond issues."

The public events predictably involved some posturing on both sides. Whether a compromise can be worked out is difficult to tell from this perspective.

The Oversight Committee says SCA13 is a life-and-death matter so Ortiz should back off. The same argument can said for its stance. Intransigence by the board certainly is a major element in keeping this whole issue alive.

The merits of the agency's "trust us" position goes only so far. California history is replete with examples of agencies that were or are little more than handmaidens of the industries they are supposed to regulate or are connected to in some fashion. The board that oversees physicians is one example, although it has improved in the last 10 or 20 years. Agriculture is another example of an agency that is a captive of its industry, which is one of the largest in California. The real estate department is still another.

The stem cell agency already has built-in ties with its industry. Those links are likely to grow in coming years. It behooves the Oversight Committee to at least assure disclosure of basic information about such connections, one of the matters that the Ortiz legislation concerns.

As for the argument that scientists would turn away from stem cell research grants because of economic disclosure requirements -- give us a break. Certainly a few might, but these are likely to be folks whose industry ties are dubious. Venture capitalists have long been successful at compelling entrepreneurs to surrender to the most onerous demands. The lure of $3 billion is likely to overcome the reluctance of any sensible scientist.

Here are related links to SCA13: Sacramento Bee story by Kevin Yamamura, the latest CIRM analysis of SCA13(June 1 version of the measure).

In separate items below is information from Ortiz' office that is not available on her web site. Sphere: Related Content

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