Thursday, February 28, 2013

LA Times: Stem Cell Agency Conflict-of-Interest Response Only a Bandage

The Los Angeles Times yesterday modestly praised the $3 billion California stem cell agency for taking some limited steps to deal with its longstanding conflict of interest issues.

But the newspaper, which has the largest circulation in the state, said that was more was needed if the agency plans to have a life after 2017, when funds for new awards run out.

The Times editorial said,
“After years of resisting all criticisms of its operations, the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine is finally listening — a little.“
The editorial continued,
“Yet the agency isn't exactly embracing an ethical overhaul. It's doing just enough to address the criticisms without triggering any oversight from the Legislature. The modifications are more a bandage than a cure. Like a bandage, they will probably do, but only for a limited time.”
The board plans to have 13 board members with ties to recipient institutions voluntarily refrain from voting on any grants that come before the board, not just the ones to their institutions.

The Times said December's blue-ribbon report from the Institute of Medicine identified the make-up of the board as the “single biggest problem” at the agency. The editorial cited figures prepared by the California Stem Cell Report that show that about 90 percent of the $1.8 billion that the board has awarded has gone to institutions linked to current or past members of the board. Fifteen out of the 29 current board members have ties to recipient institutions.

The editorial concluded,
“If the stem cell institute is just a temporary agency that will last until its public funding runs out — it plans to give its last grants with existing funds in 2017 — its planned reforms will probably be enough. But if the institute wants to be a permanent part of the research landscape — and possibly ask for more public funding — voluntary recusals are an inadequate patch. The agency's leaders should admit that the original setup was flawed and seek a true fix. “
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