Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Few Complaints Voiced on CIRM Strategic Plan

The California stem cell agency's proposed plan for spending $3 billion on stem cell research received its first real screening tonight, and the audience seemed nearly enamored with the effort.

A few minor questions were raised along with some remarks that could be construed as slightly critical, but generally the comments were along the lines of "extraordinary work product" and "outstanding document."

The screening of the plan occurred at a meeting of the CIRM Oversight Committee, a few miles from Hollywood at the Luxe Hotel on Sunset Boulevard. The proposal comes up for consideration again at another meeting of the committee on Wednesday.

CIRM President Zach Hall walked the audience – the 29-member Oversight Committee – through the document that he and his staff have been working on for about a year. He noted that is a "living plan" and subject to change by the committee, which is not expected to give it a final nod until December. Even then, he proposed that it be reviewed regularly and altered to meet changing needs and opportunities.

While the document contains specific figures, Hall said those are not "immutable" and were intended to be approximate. Final approval of grants is also in the hands of the board – not the CIRM staff.

Hall did highlight one aspect of the plan's special programs – collaborative research and disease teams that would cross multiple institutions and disciplines. They would be tightly focused and managed and encouraged to have a professional manager to push the project along. The plan envisioned $122 million for the disease team program and $60 million for the research team effort. (See page 87 of the plan.)

Oversight Committee member Claire Pomeroy, dean of the UC Davis School of Medicine, and others asked for insertion of language specifically discussing the funding of embryonic stem cell vs. adult stem cell research and human vs. nonhuman research.

Ted Love, another Oversight Committee member and president of Nuvelo, said safety should be an "extraordinary priority" of the plan. "Nothing creates a crisis like safety," he said, referring to public alarm that occurs when human experiments go awry.

Other board members emphasized the need for a top notch public education and communications effort. Committee member Joan Samuelson, president of the Parkinson's Action Network, said that the agency can "succeed only if they (the public) are with us." The plan suggests spending $4.5 million for "public outreach." (See page 105.)

John M. Simpson, stem cell project director for the Foundation of Taxpayer and Consumers Rights and often a critic of the agency, praised the plan's realism and outreach. But he reminded the board,
"At the end of the day the best scientific plan is meaningless unless there are guarantees for affordable access to cures and treatments."
While plaudits were handed out liberally during the evening meeting, the biggest round of applause came following testimony from another member of the public, Roman Reed, who is paralyzed as the result of a football accident.

He said he had told his young son that one day they would walk side by side.

And then Reed told the CIRM board,
"I believe that one day you will make my promise to my son come true."
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