Wednesday, December 08, 2010

CIRM Directors Probe New Directions for Stem Cell Agency

Directors of the California stem cell agency have just finished hearing the formal presentation of the report from the blue-ribbon review panel that recommended a strong push towards developing therapies and engaging the biotech industry, which has complained about its treatment by CIRM.

The directors took a short break and are scheduled to reconvene shortly. Some members of the public are expected to present statements.

CIRM directors this morning questioned the panel about engaging industry, improving communications  and proposals by the panel to reach out to find research any place in the world that could lead to therapies. Board members indicated that sort of "proactive" effort could be difficult given that CIRM funding is restricted to California. Review panelists said various kinds of collaborative efforts could be used without running afoul of the funding restrictions.

On relations with the biotechindustry, Alan Bernstein, head of HIV Global Vaccine Enterprise of New York and chairman of the review panel, said the group had "heard a lot of things from industry about things not working." He said,
"CIRM's management has to start talking with industry in a meaningful two-way dialogue."
CIRM Director Leeza Gibbons, a Hollywood entertainment figure and patient advocate, had a suggestion on improving recognition of CIRM among the California public. "We all want and need heroes," she said. Creating emotional connections is the way to win the hearts of the people, she said.

During its three-day review in October, members of the panel had wondered why the stem cell agency attracted so little attention in the mainstream media in California, a problem that relates as much, if not more,  to the nature of the state of the media as it does to CIRM.

Bernstein said greater use of patient advocates was important in communicating with the public, a suggestion that dovetailed into Gibbons' comment.

The panel reiterated its recommendation that the board should focus on strategic matters and clarify the conflicting roles of chairman and president, a longstanding problem created by the language of Prop. 71. 

Scientist George Daley of Harvard, one of the review panel members, said, "CIRM is in unique position" in the world "...because it has a bully pulpit, because it has tremendous influence."
He suggested that CIRM might want to assemble a "rapid strike force" to review outstanding research opportunities in the world to figure out how California can play a role.

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