Sunday, January 01, 2006

More Cash for CIRM This Month?

The financially hard-pressed California stem cell agency hopes to get a boost this month with the sale of bond anticipation notes to philanthropic investors.

Reporter Laura Mecoy of The Sacramento Bee quoted Zach Hall, president of CIRM, as saying that the agency hopes to secure enough funding by the end of January to move forward on some of the training grants it approved in September.

No money has been available for grants because litigation against the agency has made it unable to issue the $3 billion in bonds that voters authorized more than a year ago. The lawsuits are not expected to be resolved until 2007.

Mecoy's story Sunday morning also reported that the agency is "trying to determine whether state-funded research can use stem cell lines developed by other agencies that allow larger donor payments" than permitted under Prop. 71, which limits egg donor payments to reimbursement for expenses.

"There are other entities in other countries that operate in other ways. If we insist everybody do as our regulations say, our scientists will not be able to work on (stem cell) lines that deviate from our standards," Hall said.

The main focus of Mecoy's story was on the impact of the Korean scandal on legislation by State Sen. Deborah Ortiz, D-Sacramento, to tighten oversight of the stem cell agency, which we discussed on Dec. 20 (Christmas Comes Early for Sen. Ortiz).

Mecoy wrote:
"'The South Korean scandal makes it more difficult for opponents to allege this is a plot by the right wing,' Ortiz said of her legislation. 'It shows the best and the brightest in the scientific community couldn't catch these instances of fraud and overstated research.'"

Mecoy continued:

"'If their industry can't sufficiently police themselves and root out fraud, then government should step in,' the senator said. 'California would be leading the nation if we did the right thing.'

"Hall said the South Korean scandal 'emphasizes the importance of just the type of apparatus we are putting together' at the stem cell agency.

"But he said fraud is not unique to stem cell research: It has happened in various fields of scientific endeavor.

"'These things happen,' he said. 'The more intense the interest, the more likely they are to happen, and the more likely they are to be found out.'"

Regarding the sale of the bond anticipation notes, agency officials earlier said they hoped for funding last fall so we will have to wait and see whether the current expectations materialize. Agency officials have been circumspect on any pending deals, but on Oct. 31, an official from the state Treasurer's office said there was no interest from investors in purchasing the notes. However, that was two months ago and that official may not have been fully informed on efforts by stem cell chairman Robert Klein to peddle the notes. He seems to have taken on the sale as a personal project.

A sale of the notes in amounts that would not fully fund the first year of all the authorized grants raises interesting questions about which institutions would receive cash and in what amounts. Presumably that would be a decision that would be made by the stem cell Oversight Committee, which does not meet again until February. A politically astute grant recipient might promptly begin discreet lobbying of Oversight Committee members to assure that its programs receive favorable consideration. Sphere: Related Content

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