Friday, April 07, 2006

Can Californians Be Cowed?

Last month a stem cell industry executive told the California stem cell agency that it should not expect businesses to come crawling for grants. Another said firms "would not engage" unless the terms of grants fit the requirements of the industry. (See "resists.")

The Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights of Santa Monica, Ca., has taken umbrage at the comments.

John M. Simpson, stem cell project director for the group, focused on the comments of Stephen Juelsgaard, executive vice president of Genentech, who sounded the non-engagement note. Simpson said:

"Your remarks strike me as a blustering attempt to cow Californians into believing that needed stem cell research won't happen unless the game is played by biotech's rules -- otherwise you'll pick up your Petri dishes and go home."

The jousting highlights the stakes in the debate now underway at the California stem cell agency, which is in the process of formulating intellectual property rules for grants to business.

The foundation's comments notwithstanding, it would be naïve to expect stem cell firms to do anything less than push for the most advantageous position. In some fashion, all businesses have a basic responsibility to society. But their fundamental operating responsibilities are to their investors and to their bottom line, at least that is how they perceive it. That means they want as large a share of the take as possible.

On the other hand, CIRM must set firm rules for the unpredictable world of research and medicine and demonstrate that the people of California are likely to benefit from the $3 billion they authorized for stem cell research. CIRM must protect the the interests of the people of California – not just patients, scientists or other groups. Some at the agency believe generous terms for business mean speedy cures. But that could also translate to what could be huge boondoggles.

Juggling those competing demands and needs will be an important element in public confidence in the agency. The rhetoric will be heated. Accusations of greed and bad faith will fly. Egos will be bruised. It is our guess that Juelsgaard probably has not experienced a public attack such as the one leveled by by the foundation, if he is like most businessmen. He and others will need to develop thick skin. All the parties are likely to become disgruntled during the process, which makes it all the more important that hearings be totally open and transparent with ample advance public notice.

1 comment:

  1. The key element in all of this is cure research. That is what everyone with a chronically ill or disabled family member wants to see. Other financial benefits from Prop. 71 will definitely include jobs and (from those new employees) an enhanced revenue base. But what California paid for is the possibility of easing suffering and saving lives, not trying to develop a cash cow. Personally, I want everyone who participates in research for cure to do well-- if an industry like Silicon Valley develops, is that not a positive for California?-- but mainly, I want a chance to see my paralyzed son walk again, and cancer sufferers like my sister Barbara to have a chance at life. That is what the California Institute of Regenerative Medicine is all about, at least from my point of view.