Sunday, June 26, 2011

'A Critical Crossroads:' California Stem Cell Agency's Finances and 'Communications War'

The new chairman of the California stem cell agency, Jonathan Thomas, last week spoke more forthrightly in public about the financial condition of the research effort than we have heard from other CIRM officials.

Thomas also addressed the "communications war" involving the $3 billion research endeavor along with the dual executive arrangement at CIRM. In a conversation at last week's meeting of the CIRM board, he took issue with the coverage of the management structure by the California Stem Cell Report.  Thomas said his prepared statement would more clearly represent his position on the much-criticized arrangement.

Here are excerpts from his remarks dealing with those three areas. The full text of his remarks, which he provided at the request of this blog, can be found at the end of this item.

Thomas summarized the "huge success" story of CIRM and then said,
"Having said all that, CIRM is at a critical crossroads in its history. As the events of the past week continue to remind us, California is in a state of full-out fiscal crisis. No one knows when it will end or how it will ultimately play out. As a result, the agency faces the real possibility that it will not have timely access to the amount of bond proceeds it expected and may be forced to look elsewhere in very short order to the full funding required to meet its projected short term needs or to evaluate how to push grants out or otherwise modify expenses if that becomes necessary. And let's not kid ourselves – this problem could last for a long time. As a result the medium and long term funding questions are no less profound. As the agency enters a translation phase with the goal of getting more and more products into clinical trials, will CIRM be able to help its grantee and loan recipients get the money they need to cover this most expensive part of therapy development? Will CIRM be able to line up funding to sustain it beyond the target last award in 2017? These are huge questions. 
"On other fronts, the agency is in the middle of a communications war. In spite of its great story, the world seems to be focused on internal issues instead of the grand, big picture. These negative impressions distract from CIRM's mission and unnecessarily create adversaries where there would be many fewer if the true story were known. For that reason, CIRM must mount a robust public communications and information effort to get the message out. Front and center in any public communications stragetgy must be the patient advocates and their vast networks. These are the people that it's all about. When you tell their stories, you put a real life face on the marvelous science and cannot help but compel public enthusiasm and compassion."
On the subject of the shared responsibilities of the chair and the president, Thomas said,
"On reading the statute (Prop. 71), the positions of chair and president are designed to be complementary, not overlapping. When carried out as defined in a collaborative and respectful manner, they should together provide 100 percent of what the agency needs to be effective.

"On this latter point, some have decried having two chief executives. I couldn't agree more. If elected, I would attend to my many responsibilities and would expect (CIRM President) Alan (Trounson) to do the same. I would not look to micromanage but would instead empower Alan to handle his considerable job duties. He and I spoke on Sunday on this very issue and agreed that a complimentary, highly collaborative relationship was the best way to bring the agency towards fulfilling its goals."
Here is the full text of Thomas' remarks.
Statement by Jonathan Thomas to CIRM governing board 6-22-11
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