Thursday, August 09, 2007

CIRM Overseers to Consider More Public Disclosure on Lab Grants

California stem cell Chairman Robert Klein has put off requests to open up the lab grant process until the October meeting of the Oversight Committee, but says he is "supportive" of increasing public access to information.

In response to our letter last week asking that the names of applicants, their letters of intent and applications be designated as public records, Klein replied by email Tuesday, saying:
"Your letter has been provided to all ICOC board members. I’m supportive of increasing access to information on the major facilities grants. I will ask the board to formally consider this policy as an agendized issue with a staff report at the October 2007 board meeting."
Public access to lab grant review proceedings came up during the Oversight Committee hearing on Wednesday. John M. Simpson, stem cell project director for the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumers Rights, asked that all meetings in which grant applications are reviewed be open to the public.

Klein pointed out that only the scientific review sessions are closed. The reviews by the Facilities Working Group are open and the names of applicants would be disclosed at that point.

Simpson said that argument seems to mean that you can't embarrass the institutions about "not doing good science but you can for doing bad facilities." The board has also emphasized that the scientific review is paramount in assessing the applications.

Arlene Chiu, interim chief scientific officer for CIRM, opposed opening the scientific review meetings to the public. She said full candor is needed to evaluate the programs at various institutions. That is not likely to occur if it is done in public, she said.

Our view is that the scientific review should be open, but we understand her argument. Sensitive or "proprietary" information, however, could be evaluated in private, if necessary, with the bulk of the review sessions in public. The same logic could also apply to information on applications, although full disclosure is preferred.

During Wednesday's meeting, Michael Friedman, an Oversight Committee member and president of the City of Hope, said the lab grant process is "the most politically charged" of CIRM's activities. That reflects the fact that 15 out of the 29 members of the Oversight Committee have ties to institutions that could stand to benefit from the grants.

Following Wednesday's meeting, Klein told the California Stem Cell Report that he wanted to "make steady progress towards more disclosure." But he said it may take some time for all to become "more comfortable" with complete openness.

What do you think? Should universities and research institutions seeking $227 million in public funds be required to publicly disclose their identities and other information? You can comment clicking by on the word "comment" below. Ironically, our blog host, Google, permits anonymous postings but, of course, most of you will want to identify yourselves, right? Fire away. Sphere: Related Content

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