Friday, December 14, 2012

Two More Editorials: The California Stem Cell Agency Should Heed IOM Recommendations for Reform

Two other major California newspapers today said the $3 billion California stem cell agency needs to “clean up its act” if it wants to be successful in continuing its efforts at turning stem cells into cures.

The editorials appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the state's largest circulation newspaper at more than 700,000, and the San Jose Mercury News in California's Silicon Valley. The Mercury News has a reported circulation of nearly 600,000, although that figure includes other Bay Area newspaper owned by the same chain.

Both editorials focused on the 17-month evaluation of the agency by the prestigious Institute of Medicine (IOM) as did earlier editorials in The Sacramento Bee and the San Francisco Chronicle. The IOM recommended sweeping reforms at the agency that would alter its structure and target conflicts of interest. 

“The $700,000 spent on the study...will be wasted if the institute's oversight board fails to heed the (IOM) committee's criticisms, which echo the findings of the Little Hoover Commission and other groups over the years.”
The editorial continued,
“The 29-member board is made up almost entirely of representatives of advocacy groups and research institutions that have a direct interest in how the money is spent.”
The Times cited the California Stem Cell Report's calculations that about 90 percent of the $1.7 billion awarded by CIRM has gone to institutions linked to current and former members of its governing board. 

The Times noted an award to a Northern California firm that has stirred some criticism. The editorial said,
“The board also overrode the advice of its scientific advisors — twice on a single application when it considered a grant for a well-connected company, StemCells Inc. based in Newark, Calif. The board granted the company $20 million after Robert Klein, the driving force behind the passage of Proposition 71, which created and funded the agency in 2004, and its former head, lobbied so intensively for the company that one board member described it as 'arm-twisting.'"
The Times concluded,
“The agency has used more than half of its funding and one day will almost certainly want to ask taxpayers for more. It should remember that voters will look for evidence of public accountability as well as respected research.”
The San Jose paper sounded a similar note about the agency. Its editorial said,
“(I)f it wants to survive...it should heed the Institute of Medicine's advice to eliminate conflicts of interest on its board -- and do it before awarding the remaining $1.2 billion of the $3 billion voters approved for stem cell research.”
But the paper said the stem cell agency should not be provided any more state funding.
“Long-term funding was never the intent when Proposition 71 passed in 2004. It was supposed to kick-start research at a time when federal funding was blocked and to establish California as a major player in the rapidly advancing medical field. 
“The agency could continue to bring value to the state as an advocate and funder of research, but only if it can attract private donors, partners and investors. For that to happen, it will need a board that passes the ethics test, with more independent experts and industry executives free of conflicts. 
“At the outset, stem cell advocates took immense pride in structuring the agency to keep it relatively free of legislative interference despite the use of public money. Politicians kept their hands off, which was good. But the agency created its own inappropriate influences in the way it constituted its board. Now it needs to clean up its act.“
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