Sunday, January 24, 2010

CIRM Adheres to Core Mission but Future is Challenge

The California stem cell agency has "overcome startup challenges," drawn scientists to the Golden State, and its actions will have a "significant" impact on commercial and academic biotech research in the United States, according to an article in the American Journal of Public Health.

Nonetheless, the report by Joel Adelson and Joanna Weinberg (see photos) of UC San Francisco, said,
"Measuring the CIRM’s success by its highly ambitious goals for research and cures is a challenge for the future."
Robert Klein, chairman of the stem cell agency and head of the Prop. 71 political campaign, publicly hailed the article. On Jan. 15, he also told CIRM directors in an email,
"This group (the report's two authors) started out 4 years ago as complete disbelievers in the ability of this agency to fulfill its mission. Our performance has clearly convinced them we will have (and already have had) an effect on the future of biomedical research and its funding structures."
CIRM issued a release that said the article demonstrated that "CIRM has been successful in carrying out its core mission of accelerating research, creating jobs and fostering economic growth in California."

The CIRM announcement quoted Klein as saying, “The NSF (National Science Foundation) study provided strong validation of the major research jobs and medical leadership future of California, driven by Proposition 71 funding,"

The study's authors are associated with the Institute for Health and Aging at UC San Francisco. Adelson is chief of the Integrating Medicine and Public Health Program. Weinberg is associate adjunct professor, Institute for Health and Aging and adjunct professor and director, Law, Science and Health Policy Coordinator, Hastings College of Law. Their article was funded by the NSF and published in the January 2010 edition of the American Journal of Public Health. UC San Francisco has received $103 million from CIRM. A footnote on the article noted that UCSF has received CIRM cash. It also said Adelson and Weinberg received no funds from the stem cell agency.

In a summary attached to the article, "The California Stem Cell Initiative: Persuasion, Politics and Public Science," the authors said,
“The initiative has been highly controversial among stakeholders and watchdog groups concerned with organizational transparency, accountability, and the ethics of stem cell research....We found that the CIRM has overcome start-up challenges, been selectively influenced by criticism, and adhered to its core mission.”
The article said,
"It is difficult to find anything quite like the California stem cell endeavor—the rationale for its origin, its enabling ballot initiative, the extent of state funding for research, and the public’s vigorous engagement with the process are all unprecedented. We found that the CIRM, after a difficult beginning, and despite institutional turbulence, economic uncertainty, and constant public scrutiny, has become well-established and has both maintained and strengthened its core mission, partially aided by the pressures and criticism."
Adelson and Weinberg wrote,
"Since the initiative passed, continuous criticism and scrutiny has come from sources opposed not to stem cell research itself but rather to other aspects of the endeavor. Some critics raised concerns about the protection of egg donors (for somatic cell nuclear transfer), others about limited attention to donors’ physical health and potential exploitation because of their economic status. Strong objections have been raised to the manipulation and commercialization of human genes."
The article continued,
"Perhaps the closest attention to the conduct of the CIRM’s affairs has been paid by individuals and groups concerned about the CIRM’s potential conflicts of interest and lack of transparency. Watchdogs and consumer advocates have kept steady pressure on the CIRM to maintain transparency in spending taxpayers’ funds, including awarding of research grants, and to be publicly accountable for adherence to ethical and other standards. The CIRM, which may only fund research to be conducted in California, also had to address several potential conflicts of interest in funding decisions. The relatively narrow composition and size of the ICOC(the CIRM board of directors), and the limited number of institutions qualified to conduct CIRM-funded research, guarantee a large overlap among those seeking and those awarding funds. Many potential grantee institutions have representatives on the ICOC, because the initiative requires the appointment of representatives from 5 University of California campuses and from other California research institutions."
Adelson and Weinberg said,
"In its short history, the CIRM has taken on a vigorous life of its own. It is apparent that the shift of a major focus for stem cell research to California will have a significant effect into the future on the geographic distribution of biological science and biotechnology infrastructure in the United States; on the location of university, biotechnology, and pharmaceutical research and start-up firms; and on the investment of venture capital. Evidence for this is the $300 million the CIRM has invested in stem cell facilities, already leveraged to more than $1 billion in linked donations. The CIRM has also directly stimulated the formation of a consortium of otherwise separate institutions to meld resources and facilities in San Diego, and has begun to develop international collaborative partners. California is host to a steadily growing cadre of world-class scientists, dedicated state-of-the-art facilities, training programs, and support programs, such as a large-animal facility for the testing and development of drugs to facilitate the translational pathway leading from basic stem cell research findings in the laboratory to treatments and cures."
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