Wednesday, December 12, 2012

IOM Report: Many Major Changes at Stem Cell Agency Require Legislation

As the Institute of Medicine began its presentation today to the governing board of the $3 billion California stem cell agency, one of its key directors, Sherry Lansing, pointed out that some of the IOM recommendations require legislative action and perhaps a vote of the people.

Her essential point was that the agency is hamstrung by the very measure that created it in 2004. She did not elaborate on her comment, but here is a look at some of matters she was talking about. (Lansing is chairwoman of the UC board of regents and former CEO of a Hollywood film studio.)

The ballot measure locked in management minutia and more, and then slapped on tight restrictions that make it nearly politically impossible to alter even such matters as who is in charge of production of the annual report. (By order of law, the chairman, in case you are wondering.)

And if the 29-member governing board -- so sized and specified to every nit and nat by the ballot measure -- wants to make the sweeping changes recommended by the IOM, agency directors face a formidable task in California's Capitol.

Many of the most important recommendations for the California stem cell agency require a vote of the California legislature and signature of the governor. The IOM's choice of words – that these proposals “may” need legislation – is conservative. There is little doubt that legislative action would be needed to fully implement the recommendations below.

The vote needed is no simple majority. It is a rare, super, super-majority (70 percent) of each house. The requirement was also written into state law by Proposition 71, the 10,000-word ballot initiative that created the stem cell agency. The 70 percent requirement gives extraordinary power to minority viewpoints that must be dealt with to win passage of legislation. In the state Senate, for example, it would take only  13 senators to block a bill.  

With that background, here are direct quotes from the IOM report on its legislative recommendations.

Separate Operations from Oversight
The board should focus on strategic planning, oversee financial performance and legal compliance, assess the performance of the president and the board, and develop a plan for transitioning CIRM to sustainability. The board should oversee senior management but should not be involved in day-to-day management. The chair and the board should delegate day-to-day management responsibilities to the president. Each of the three working groups should report to management rather than to the ICOC.

Change the Composition and Structure of the Board and Working Groups
CIRM should put systems in place to restructure the board to have a majority of independent members, without increasing the size of the board. It should include representatives of the diverse constituencies with interests in stem cell research, but no institution or organization should be guaranteed a seat on the board. Consideration should be given to adding members from the business community. The terms of board members should be staggered to balance fresh perspectives with continuity.
The chair and other ICOC members should be prohibited from serving on the working groups. During the reconstitution of the working groups, the current level of representation of disease advocates should be maintained, such board members being replaced with other disease advocates who are not board members.

Revise Conflict of Interest Definitions and Policies
CIRM should revise its definitions of conflict of interest to recognize conflicts arising from nonfinancial interests, such as the potential for conflict arising from an individual’s interest in a specific disease, and should reassess its policies for managing conflict of interest in light of this broader definition.

Restructure the Grant Review and Funding Process
CIRM should restructure the grant review and funding process to separate oversight and strategic planning from day-to-day operations. The ICOC should remain responsible for oversight and articulation of an overall strategic plan. However, grant management, funding recommendations, and grant administration should be the responsibility of the CIRM scientific staff, reporting to the president. This restructuring would help mitigate concerns related to conflicts of interest and would also put the review and funding process in the hands of those best equipped to make those decisions.
The committee recommends several changes pertaining to the development and approval of RFAs, composition of the Grants Working Group, reordering of rankings by CIRM staff, notification of applicants, and process for making final decisions.

Enhance Industry Representation in Key Aspects of CIRM Organization
Industry representation on the ICOC, the Scientific Advisory Board, the Standards Working Group, and the Grants Working Group should be enhanced to leverage industry’s expertise and resources in product development, manufacturing, and regulatory approval in support of the ultimate goal of bringing therapies to patients.

Consider Harmonizing Intellectual Property Policies with Policies of Bayh-Dole Act
 As other sources of funding for stem cell research become available and as the field of regenerative medicine advances from the laboratory to the clinic, the ICOC should reconsider whether its goal of developing cures would be better served by harmonizing CIRM’s IP policies wherever possible with the more familiar policies of the Bayh-Dole Act.  
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