Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Prop. 71 Minutia Stalls CIRM Again

SAN FRANCISCO – The board of directors of the California stem cell agency Tuesday failed to achieve a quorum and was forced to put off action on regulations tied to its ambitious, $210 million disease team grant round, the largest ever in CIRM history.

That means it will be at least another two weeks or more before the board can act on the IP rules that it needs for disease team project. The grants are scheduled to be awarded later this year.

The board has been handicapped for years by its super-quorum requirement, 65 percent of its 29 members. Tuesday, the quorum was 19 but only 18 answered the roll call during the special, teleconference meeting based here. Twenty-one had been expected. Without a quorum, the board cannot take legal action.

John M. Simpson, stem cell project director for Consumer Watchdog of Santa Monica, Ca., said today that problems with quorums are a persistent and important issue at CIRM. Simpson has followed the matter for several years. In one case in 2008, he wrote about how the board “essentially” drafted a member of the audience to raise a quorum.

Commenting today, he said,
“This clearly shows that (the board) has not resolved its nagging problem with mustering a quorum. They should have taken the Little Hoover Commission's (initial) advice and moved to make a simple majority all that is necessary to conduct business. Instead, they insist on a meaningless charade that wasted the time of 18 very busy people.”
The quorum mandate is written into state law by Prop. 71, which created the stem cell agency in 2004. It cannot be changed without a vote of the people or by the legislature. But the latter involves another super-majority requirement, 70 percent of both houses of the legislature and the signature of the governor.

The Little Hoover Commission, the state's government good government panel, earlier this year cited CIRM's problems with achieving quorums. But the CIRM board last month rejected suggestions that the quorum be reduced to 50 percent. It relied on its attorney's opinion that to do so would “undermine” the intent of the voters and would leave the board open to being captured by a minority.

However, super-majority requirements actually facilitate minority dominance of bodies such as the CIRM board. On Tuesday, the absence of one member paralyzed the board. In other cases, a few members have left CIRM board meetings and thus prevented it from taking action. Conceivably, 11 members of the board could control it by simply refusing to attend unless their wishes prevailed.

The regulations under consideration Tuesday dealt with intellectual property requirements. Initially, they appeared to be relatively non-controversial, although CIRM director Susan Bryant, vice chancellor for research, University of California, Irvine, raised anew concerns expressed last July by the University of California (statewide).

Director William R. Brody, president of the Salk Institute, also criticized some of the proposed regulations as “absurd” and suggested that language from federal IP law be adopted. However, others noted that CIRM deliberately moved away from federal law in its development of the regulations over several years.

In the absence of a quorum, CIRM Chairman Robert Klein said the proposed regulations will be taken up later after CIRM director Ed Penhoet, head of the IP Task Force and a co-founder of Chiron, has a chance to discuss them with Brody and Bryant.

The CIRM board also did not act on hiring underwriters (more than one is needed because of potential conflicts of interest) to run its $500 million biotech loan program. The effort is scheduled to begin with the disease team grant round. But the board was told that a very small number of potential borrowers are involved in that round.

Instead of hiring two or more underwriters, John Robson, CIRM vice president for operations, said the lending effort can begin with a pilot project involving one underwriter. He said that it will help the agency develop a better underwriting effort for the directors to approve next year. Following the meeting, Robson said he hopes to conclude a pilot agreement within days.

You can read more on quorum problems, as discussed by Simpson, here, here, here, here and here.

(Editor's note: In an earlier version of this item, the quotation from John M. Simpson did not contain the word "initial" in parentheses.) Sphere: Related Content

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous12:07 PM

    When will the deans understand that they took an oath to act on behalf of the people of California? Bryant arguing for UC at least keeps IP revenue in the State's hands. Brody arguing for Salk to keep IP revenue via Bayh Dole should be construed by the FPPC as using his position for personal gain and he should either be admonished or bounced.