Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Texas Flap Looms Over California Stem Cell Agency's Grant Appeals

In nine days, the California stem cell agency plans to take another crack at finding ways to curb its free-wheeling appeal process involving scientists whose applications for millions have been rejected by reviewers.

It is a matter of considerable interest to researchers who need the cash to keep their labs running and remain in good standing with their host institutions.

The stem cell agency's governing board this fall created a task force to deal with the appeals issue after a record-breaking number of researchers made public appeals featuring emotional patient advocates. Even the former chairman of the agency, Robert Klein, made a two-time pitch for one applicant. Board members later complained publicly about “arm-twisting,” lobbying and“emotionally charged presentations.”

The agenda for the Nov. 30 task force meeting in Oakland -- with teleconferencing sites in San Francisco, Irvine, Palo Alto, Seattle and Rochester, N.Y. -- contains few clues on what the panel is hoping to specifically accomplish in next week's 90-minute session.

But interested researchers can check the transcript from the Oct. 24 meeting, during which CIRM President Alan Trounson described the problem as “very critical.” He said,
“I think this is a very serious matter that could really bite us very hard in a similar way to what's happened in Texas. Unless we come up with some kind of process that really addresses the science, it's a very large concern.”
Trounson's Texas reference was to the mass resignations of reviewers at that state's $3 billion cancer research effort. Questions have been raised about integrity of its grant review process and the program's political and biotech industry relationships. James Drew of the Dallas Morning News produced a bit of an overview this week. In another piece, Eric Berger of the Houston Chronicle provided quotes from emails from the infighting on a controversial $18 million grant.

Changes in California's grant appeal process may well be also discussed at the agency's board meeting Dec. 12 in Los Angeles. The board hopes to wrap up its action by late January.

Here is a link to an item with more specifics on material presented to the task force in October. Here is a link to an August 2012 list of articles and documents related to the CIRM appeals process.

Interested parties can address comments to the agency at info@cirm.ca.gov.   

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