Sunday, November 11, 2007

Text of CIRM Statement

Earlier this year, we asked Dale Carlson, then CIRM's chief communications officer, for a perspective on the performance of the California stem cell agency. Here is the text of what he provided.
"The early history of CIRM is remarkable on a number of points, particularly given constraints on our budget and staff imposed by the delay in issuing bonds.

"The project is innovative from its inception: no one has ever funded scientific research with debt financing. Governments float bonds for public capital projects routinely – for roads, schools, prisons, libraries, water storage and transport, and other physical infrastructure needs – but never before for the development of intellectual capital until California voters approved Proposition 71. Similar bond programs are now proposed in New York, Texas, Massachusetts, and New Jersey, and have been considered by states in Australia. I don’t offer that as an example of something CIRM has ‘done right,’ but to establish as background the fact that everything we’ve done since is new, untried, and uncharted.

"The CIRM Scientific Strategic Plan specifies clear objectives and funding initiatives for 10 years. The fact that we have a 10-year plan is remarkable. I know of no other government agency (or public company for that matter) that’s ever developed such a far-sighted blueprint for its activities. It sets specific goals and benchmarks so the public can measure our progress. It lays out a detailed course of action for the six months and three years following its adoption. It does not dwell on generalities, as is common in strategic plans for public agencies. We were lauded for being realistic in our goals and for the open, public process used to draft that document, including the scientific meeting held in 2005 to assess the state of stem cell research globally.

"Our medical and ethical standards for research go beyond any in place or recommended by other scientific funding organizations. In at least one case, they’ve been adopted wholesale by another state.

"Our intellectual property policy for non-profits and the for-profit policy currently in development go beyond those of other private and public funding agencies. Again, some believe our requirements go too far, some not far enough. And again, this is another instance where we’re largely working without benefit of a successful model in place at the federal or state level.

"We’ve issued four RFAs, reviewed more than 350 applications, and brought recommendations to our governing board. In each instance, the time from RFA concept approval to grant approval has been far shorter than researchers have seen from other agencies. (Have I mentioned that we have limited staff for this work?) To date, 136 grants totaling more than $208 million have been awarded or approved at 23 institutions.

"We commissioned the Institute of Medicine to hold a conference on the risks to women who donate oocytes, the first meeting ever held on this subject.

"The Institute’s global leadership is well-recognized, even before awarding significant research funds. We forged strong relations with foreign countries and international organizations of stem cell researchers. We were the only state invited to join these organizations. The International Stem Cell Forum will hold its annual meeting next year in California, after considering offers to host the session from Israel and China.

"Few have any experience organizing a new government agency from scratch, let alone one devoted to such a novel concept. We’ve struggled at times with the challenges and requirements that presents, and we’ve not always made the right decisions when first faced with a decision or dilemma. Where we’ve erred or fallen short, we’ve quickly changed course in favor of a better approach. The Bureau of State Audits report is a good example of that pattern. If the BSA found a problem in our policies or practices, we made no attempt to defend or justify our conduct. We simply said, “You’re right. We’ll fix it.” And we have, in most instances.

"Some do not believe the Institute operates with sufficient regard for public participation or scrutiny, particularly where the review of grant applications is involved. Without revisiting the extensive discussions we’ve had with our critics on these points, it’s clear the CIRM is more open, solicitous, and responsive to the public than any other agency – private or public – engaged in research funding. The conflict of interest policy we follow for grant reviewers exceeds the requirements in place at NIH and elsewhere."
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