Sunday, November 10, 2013

Prowess and Conflicts: A Media Primer on the California Stem Cell Agency

The major daily newspaper in the San Diego area, a hotbed of biotech and stem cell research, is carrying a lengthy piece on the status of the California stem cell agency.

The article was written by Bradley Fikes. The headline on the article on the Web site of the San Diego UT said,
 “Stem cell program is making progress.” 
Fikes said that “CIRM’s scientific prowess is generally acknowledged by its critics” and cited nine early stage clinical trials that have received some agency funding for research along the way. But he also wrote,
“It’s clear that treatments haven’t come as fast as optimists had hoped. No therapies funded by the agency have been approved.”
He continued with a mention of the 2004 ballot campaign that created the agency, an effort that was criticized for hyping stem cell research. Fikes wrote,
“As it turned out, researchers simply didn’t know enough about stem cells to rush them into clinical trials. So the agency, the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, or CIRM, stuck to the basics.”
The piece is something of a primer on the agency, which is appropriate for the general readership of the newspaper. Even with San Diego's strong stem cell presence, the overwhelming majority of readers of the paper are unlikely to know much about the research or the agency.

Fikes also mentioned the longstanding conflict of interest issues at the agency. The California Stem Cell Report has calculated that about 90 percent of the $1.9 billion awarded by the agency's directors has gone to institutions linked to directors. Fikes wrote,
“'From the very beginning, it was clear that CIRM fundamentally was composed of people who decided to give out the money who, by and large, represented the people who receiving the money,' said John Simpson of Santa Monica-based Consumer Watchdog.”
As of this writing, no readers of the newspaper had filed comments on the article.

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