Sunday, April 07, 2013

Modest Approval from Long-time Stem Cell Agency Critic

Of all California's newspapers, The Sacramento Bee, the only daily paper in the state capital, has long been the most critical – editorially – of the Golden State's $3 billion stem cell research agency.

Today, however, the newspaper gave a modest nod of approval to the agency's modest efforts to clean up its built-in conflicts of interest, which have been cited as a major flaw by the prestigious Institute of Medicine.

The headline on the Bee's editorial today said,
“Stem cell agency finally addresses potential for conflicts”
The piece said that Jonathan Thomas, chairman of the agency, “has taken important steps in reducing the potential for conflicts within this agency.”

The editorial continued,
 “He hasn't gone as far as we would like, or that independent outside reviewers have recommended....But he's achieved what's possible, at least for now, and the board may empower him to go further.”
The Bee referred to action last month in which the agency's governing board decided, among other things, that 13 of the 15 board members linked to recipient institutions could not vote on any grants, although they could participate in discussion of applications. Twenty-nine persons sit on the board. In a $700,000 report commissioned by the agency, the Institute of Medicine recommended a fully independent board.

The Sacramento newspaper said, 
“We think Thomas and the oversight board should go further and adopt the Institute of Medicine recommendations. But that is politically unlikely. As is now obvious, it will be up to the Legislature to fully remove representatives of funding-eligible institutions from being involved in decisions about grants that could come back to them.
“Thomas, to his credit, recognizes that his compromise may not be the perfect solution. He wants to test out the new policy for a year, and see how it works. There's a lot riding on the outcome. CIRM is expected to run out of funds in 2017, and while philanthropy and foundation money could extend that for a few years, supporters of California stem cell research clearly want to go back to the ballot to seek additional funding. To make that case, CIRM supporters can't afford any more scandals about insider dealing. The next year will reveal whether it is on the right track.”
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