Thursday, February 07, 2013

Stem Cell Agency Board Member Defends Independence of Many on Board

A member of the governing board of the California stem cell agency is taking exception to a statement on the California Stem Cell Report that no independent members sit on that body.

Francisco Prieto, a Sacramento physician and a patient advocate member of the board, referred to the “ethical minefield” item Feb. 5, 2013. Here is the text of what Prieto wrote,
“I have to object to this line: 'None of the current members are independent. The ballot measure that created the agency required board members to be appointed from various constituencies.' 
“I think I am absolutely independent, and I think the same applies at the very least to most if not all of my fellow patient advocates, and probably to the biotech representatives as well – remember that they all must come from companies that are not involved in stem cell research.  Although I supported the proposition, I was not involved directly in the campaign in any way, and I did not meet Bob Klein (the first chairman of the stem cell board) or any of my fellow board members until the day I was sworn in at our first meeting.
“The Prop. 71 language I believe specifies that advocates must have a record of advocating for people with the disease or diseases they represent, and not that they belong to or work for any specific organization.  Checking my binder, it refers to 'groups' but does not specify those – for example, it refers to 'representative of a California regional, state or national HIV/AIDS disease advocacy group.' I’m not sure how you would define 'independent' but I certainly don’t think it means 'disinterested.'”
Our take: The Institute of Medicine(IOM) called for a new majority of what it described as independent members, obviously not finding sufficient, if any, independent members on the agency board. The IOM, the most prestigious organization of its kind in the country, said changes were needed because of damaging conflict of interest issues at the stem cell agency.

Prop. 71, which created the stem cell agency in 2004, was carefully crafted to avoid the use of the word “independent” when describing the necessary qualifications for a board member.

 Instead the measure required that, in some cases, they must come from very specific education institutions. (You can find the CIRM summary of all qualifications within this document.) In other cases, the speaker of the state Assembly appoints “one representative of a California regional, state, or national mental health disease advocacy group.” The leader of the state Senate appoints “one representative of a California regional, state, or national HIV/AIDS disease advocacy group. “ Four other statewide elected officials appoint an executive from a “California life science commercial entity.”

Prieto is correct when he says he believes he is “absolutely independent.” But he fills a category that represents a special constituency. What is missing from the board is anyone who does not come from one special constituency or another. The board was constructed in that manner to make sure it would win the broadest measure of support from all the various major constituencies by guaranteeing them a seat at the table where the money is handed out.  Ironically, the full formal name of the CIRM governing board is the "Independent Citizens Oversight Committee," a piece of political legerdemain to mask the actual nature of who would sit on the board. 
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