Friday, December 14, 2007

Murphy on CIRM: The Long Trek and Growing Pains

Earlier this week, Richard Murphy, the interim president of the California stem cell agency, told the group's directors things are better than they might seem in media reports about conflicts-of-interest at the institute.

We asked him for a copy of his remarks, which are carried below. We should note that Murphy (see photo) has been with the agency since the beginning, first as a director and then as president since August.

"Before I begin, Mr. Chairman, I would like to share with the ICOC my observations on the recent events that have occurred at CIRM.

"Over the past several weeks, we have been through some challenging issues that have involved CIRM and ICOC members, issues that been fully discussed by the press and by CIRM’s many critics. I know we benefit from constructive suggestions but in considering our critics, I am also reminded of the words of composer Jean Sibelius who once said: “Remember, a statue has never been set up to honor a critic.”

"In my view, our recent problems arose not because ICOC members were intentionally trying to compromise CIRM’s rules but rather from inadvertent and innocent mistakes or because of ambiguities in how CIRM’s guidelines interface with state regulations. We need to be especially mindful of Footnote 1 in the ICOC’s own Conflict of Interest guidelines which can easily be interpreted to support the actions of the Deans in wring support letters. We need to deal with the problems that have arisen and clarify the ambiguities that gave rise to them.

"In addition, it is important to emphasize that we are a new and precedent-setting organization for we are the first state agency in the history of this country to fund medical research at this high level.

"Certainly, we always need to learn, to improve and to be better at predicting where unexpected hurdles and ambiguities can arise. But let us not be deterred from our mission by honest mistakes and let us not forget that the issues we confronted pale in comparison to CIRM’s achievements.

"The ICOC should take great pride in knowing that in the three short years since the election of November of 2004, CIRM’s list of accomplishments is remarkable. CIRM has

"Defeated in court opponents who tried to derail the will of the people who voted for Proposition 71

"Created a first-rate funding agency for supporting scientific research.

"Assembled a grants working group composed of some of the country’s best scientists from leading research institutions to help us evaluate grant applications

"Established ethical guidelines for working with stem cells that have become world standards

"Created intellectual property policies that will ensure that the people of California will benefit medically and also financially from the investment they have made in stem cell research.

"We have also processed over 400 grant applications, and committed over $200 million dollars in grants for research, training, and facilities. Each of you have a copy of the list of awards which are described 2007 Awards and Applications Approved For Funding.

"By the summer of 2008, we are predicted to have committed approximately $500 million dollars in funds for the support of stem cell research, which will make us the world’s largest supporter of embryonic stem cell research, and the envy of the world in our ability to fund this type of research.

"And, in the competition you will vote on today, CIRM will fund what many have called the lost generation of medical scientists, outstanding young MD and PhD scientists who have been delayed in establishing independent research laboratories because of cutbacks in federal funding.

"And CIRM has achieved these milestones with a skeleton crew of staff most of whom are new to this field and learning on the job. Fortunately, our staff’s commitment, intelligence, and willingness to work long hours have paid off in allowing CIRM to move far more expeditiously than any of us might have expected.

"In summary, Mr. Chairman, we must always endeavor to correct short-comings, but let us not forget that CIRM has now begun the long trek towards realizing Proposition 71’s vision of developing stem cell therapies to relieve the suffering wrought by intractable diseases. The journey will be long, but when we look back, the difficulties we have experienced recently will be seen as inevitable growing pains while our achievements will be seen as major steps forward, with far-reaching health consequences for us all." Sphere: Related Content

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