Friday, March 19, 2010

Accountability and Umbilical Cord Blood Legislation: CIRM's Positions

As expected, directors of the California stem cell agency moved last week to attempt to sidetrack legislation aimed at ensuring affordable access to taxpayer-funded stem cell therapies and to improve accountability and transparency at the $3 billion enterprise.

The real question is what horse will CIRM have to trade in order to send the bill off to interim study, which would, in effect, kill it for the next year or so. A case can be made that CIRM genuinely needs the bill, or least one of its major components. CIRM already has expressed an urgent need for removal of the 50-person cap on its staff, which the legislation (SB1064) by Sen. Elaine Kontominas Alquist, D-San Jose, would provide. CIRM has said that it is examining non-legislative ways to sidestep the legal ban on more than 50 staffers, but nothing has surfaced publicly.

CIRM says its interim study plan is a move that welcomes legislative oversight. However, the tactic has been long used by foes of legislation to kill bills without appearing to be publicly truculent. That said, the tactic is more sophisticated than some of the agency's previous stonewalling.

All this is going on against the backdrop of a California gubernatorial election, not that CIRM will even be a footnote in the campaign. But a new governor next January – whether it is Jerry Brown or a Republican – could be less friendly towards the agency than the current one, who has obliged it with vetoes on bills and a life-saving $150 million loan.

Meanwhile, patient advocate Don Reed once again has weighed in against the Alquist bill or any legislation that would make changes in the California stem cell agency. On his blog,, he recently cited some personal examples of the need for stem cell therapies. Basically, his pitch is that anything that impedes the stem cell agency or what it wants to do is not to be supported. Reed's comments were also carried on the Huffington Post. Reed is vice president of Americans for Cures, the personal lobbying organization of CIRM Chairman Robert Klein.

The first legislative hearing on Alquist's measure is yet to be scheduled. It is expected to be in the Senate Health Committee, which she chairs.

CIRM directors are also doing their own interim study, so to speak, of legislation that would give the agency more cash and broaden its scope. On the table is a proposal that would be embodied in a bill (AB52) by Assemblyman Anthony Portantino, D-Pasadena, to increase fees for copies of birth certificates and send the money to CIRM, which then would run a public umbilical cord blood banking program.

Directors ordered an internal study of the complex matter, including the science, logistics and “liabilities” of such a move. It appears that much of the study will be performed by outside experts, which is entirely appropriate since the agency is short-staffed and has more important priorities, such as the oversight of more than 300 researchers and institutions that have been given more than $1 billion in state cash.

Consultants interested in that contract should watch the RFP section of CIRM Web site closely or call the agency directly to be sure to be notified about any sort of competition for the work. Sphere: Related Content

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