Sunday, March 10, 2013

San Diego Newspaper Hails Stem Cell Agency and IOM Response

The $3 billion California stem cell agency hit it big in San Diego today, finally scoring an editorial that said “arguably” the agency's largess has made the state “the world leader in medical research.”

The San Diego U-T, the largest circulation newspaper in the area, said the big headline about the eight-year-old agency is “the potential for transformative medical breakthroughs.”

The editorial noted that the agency has long been criticized in connection with conflicts of interest. About 90 percent of the $1.8 billion the agency has awarded has gone to institutions linked to current and past members of its board of directors.

But the agency “is finally taking the criticism seriously,” the newspaper said. It cited proposals that would, if approved later this month, have 13 members of the agency's governing board voluntarily abstain from voting on any grants that come before the board. Twenty-nine persons sit on the board. The thirteen are connected to recipient institutions. Two other board members are linked to recipient institutions.

The stem cell business is no small matter in San Diego, which is one of California's hotbeds of biotech and stem cell research. The stem cell agency has awarded about $338 million to San Diego area institutions and businesses. Four executives from San Diego area institutions sit on the CIRM board.

The newspaper's editorial said,
“There remains a residue of cynicism about CIRM. Critics say the agency board did the minimum necessary to avoid an intervention by the Legislature – and also acted to buff the agency’s image should it seek more bond funding from California voters before its present funding runs out in 2017, as is now projected.
“These views may have some merit. But on balance, we think the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine has – at long last – responded properly to the fair criticism it faced. Instead of being exasperated by CIRM, more people should be excited about the great work it is doing.”
The editorial followed a meeting involving the editorial board of the newspaper, CIRM Chairman Jonathan Thomas and Larry Godlstein, director of the UC San Diego stem cell program. The meeting was part of a CIRM campaign to generate newspaper support for the agency's response to sweeping recommendations from a blue-ribbon study by the Institute of Medicine. The San Diego editorial is the most effusive so far.

The newspaper's biotech reporter, Bradley Fikes, sat in on the meeting and Saturday posted video excerpts from the discussion, including a brief written summary of the content of each clip.

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