Sunday, March 10, 2013

California Stem Cell Directors to Finalize IOM Response Next Week

Directors of the California stem cell agency will meet March 19 in Burlingame to complete action on their response to blue-ribbon recommendations for sweeping changes at the eight-year-old research enterprise.

CIRM Chairman J.T. Thomas last week told the San Diego U-T editorial board that he regarded approval as “largely ministerial.”

Thomas has been visiting newspaper editorial boards around the state, touting his plan, which was initially approved by the board in January. The main focus has been on its provisions dealing with conflicts of interest, which would have 13 of the 29 governing board members voluntarily remove themselves from voting on any grant applications. The 13 are linked to recipient institutions. Two other board members linked to recipient institutions also sit on the board.

About 90 percent of the $1.8 billion that has been awarded by the CIRM board has gone to institutions linked to past and present members of the board.

In December, the Institute of Medicine cited major problems with conflicts at the stem cell agency. It recommended creation of a new, independent majority on the board, which would mean that some members would lose their seats. The IOM report also recommended a host of additional changes that have become eclipsed by the controversy about conflicts, which were built into the board by Proposition 71, the ballot measure that created it in 2004.

An analysis in January by the California Stem Cell Report of the IOM report, which CIRM commissioned at a cost of $700,000, showed that agency's response fell far short of what the IOM proposed to improve the agency's performance.

Also on the agenda for the March 19 is approval of applications in a $30 million effort by the agency involving reprogrammed adult stem cells. The agency said the goal of the initiative is “to generate and ensure the availability of high quality disease-specific hiPSC resources for disease modeling, target discovery and drug discovery and development for prevalent, genetically complex diseases.”  
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