Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Inside the Grant Review Process at the California Stem Cell Agency

One of the major issues today involving the California stem cell agency and the Institute of Medicine revolves around the grant review process, appeals and conflicts of interest.

The agency has prepared a presentation of how it perceives the process. The Institute of Medicine has also described the review process. Both descriptions offer different sorts of insights into the procedures.

We are offering both characterizations. Both have at least one error and other limits. The IOM, for instance, says grant applicants who file extraordinary petitions are invited by CIRM to make public presentations to the board. That is not the case.

CIRM's presentation refers to a second tier category for applications, a category that has not been used for some time by the agency. The agency also says that it provides to the public in advance of board meetings statistics on the spread and deviation of reviewer scores on applications. That is not the case. The material, a key board tool for evaluating appeals, has generally not been available to the public until the day of the meeting, if then. Sometimes it has only been available via a Power Point presentation on a screen at the meeting. The CIRM slide on executive sessions says that board members do not discuss merits of an application in executive session. That assertion is marginal at best. Last September, statements by the chairman of the board clearly indicated that such a discussion occurred during an executive session. From our attendance at other meetings, it seems abundantly clear that discussions do occur in executive session.
We have queried the agency concerning the statements in the grant review presentation document.

Readers should also be aware that grant reviewers make the de facto decisions on grants, although the board has final legal authority. The board has almost never rejected a grant approved by reviewers. The board also goes along with reviewers on the vast majority of applications that are rejected.  The board, however, does pick a few applications not favored by reviewers in each round and approves them. 

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