Wednesday, May 30, 2012

California Stem Cell Agency Fires Back at LA Times Columnist

The top two leaders of the California stem cell agency today took strong issue with a column in the Los Angeles Times that spoke less than favorably about the history and efforts of the state research enterprise.

Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Michael Hiltzik mentioned California's $3 billion stem cell effort in a piece May 27 about Proposition 29 on the June ballot. The "Son of CIRM" initiative, tailored after the ballot measure that created the stem cell agency in 2004, would provide $800 million annually for research into tobacco-related illnesses. The money would be derived from a $1 dollar-a-pack tax on cigarettes.

Among other things, Hiltzik said,
"Proposition 71(the stem cell initiative), you may recall, was sold to a gullible public via candy-coated images of Christopher Reeve walking again and Michael J. Fox cured of Parkinson's. The implication was that these miracles would happen if voters approved a $3-billion bond issue for stem cell research."
The reponse from J.T. Thomas, chairman of the CIRM board and a Los Angeles bond financier, and CIRM President Alan Trounson came in the form of a letter to the editor. The letter was only four paragraphs long and may have been cut prior to publication, which is common practice for letters to the editor. We have asked CIRM about whether there is more to the letter. (Following publication of this item, CIRM spokesman Kevin McCormack said the complete text was published by the Times, which has a 150-word limit on letters. The CIRM letter was 148.)

Here is the full text as published.
"In his article opposing Proposition 29, Michael Hiltzik makes a number of misleading statements about Proposition 71, the voter-approved measure funding stem-cell research. 
"No ads for Proposition 71 promised miraculous cures. They promised good science, and that is what is being funded, with more than 62 promising therapies for 40 different diseases on their way to clinical trials. 
"The stem-cell agency has conflict-of-interest rules as strict as any government agency. We undergo state-mandated audits to ensure we follow all rules and regulations, and the most recent one, completed just this month, praised the agency for its performance. 
"As for being 'an unwieldy bureaucrac just 6% of the money we get goes to pay for staff; 94% goes to fund research here in California, creating new jobs, generating income for the state and, most important, helping find treatments for deadly diseases."  

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