With more than 3.0 million page views and more than 5,000 items, this blog provides news and commentary on public policy, business and economic issues related to the $3 billion California stem cell agency. David Jensen, a retired California newsman, has published this blog since January 2005. His email address is email@example.com.
Sunday, January 26, 2014
Alan Trounson's Opaque Messages, Genomics and $40 Million
Cryptic is probably a good word for the
messages delivered last week by the president of the California stem
cell agency, Alan Trounson, in his recommendations in the agency's $40 million genomics round. Odd might be another.
Some might say Trounson is ill-serving
both the board that hired him and California taxpayers.
In a document on the CIRM Web site,
Trounson, who is a noted researcher from Australia, says the
29-member governing board of the agency should give $33 million to a
Stanford-led consortium to create a stem cell genomics center. That
coincides with the opinions of the agency's blue-ribbon scientific
Trounson's rationale, however, is no
more than a 23-word phrase among four paragraphs that are little more than a generic description of a stem cell genomic center.
The Stanford proposal, he said, “will fulfill all of the aims of
the RFA and provide an excellent, responsive and comprehensive
genomics resource for California stem cell researchers.”
Trounson's recommendations on three
competing proposals(here, here and here), all of which were also
approved for funding by reviewers, are even more opaque. He simply
“CIRM Staff Recommendation: Do not
Trounson's name is missing from the
CIRM documents nixing the three proposals. But Trounson calls the
shots at the agency and signs off on any advice to his board.
His recommendations would be a dramatic
and major change in how the board treats the positive decisions of
its reviewers. Over its nine-year history, the board has almost never
overridden positive findings by reviewers. Invariably they are
rubber-stamped with no discussion at public board meetings.
CIRM's directors are loathe to
substitute their judgment for reviewers for a variety of reasons. One
is that the board members do not see the actual applications – only
the same review summaries provided to the public. The identities of
the applicants are also withheld from directors prior to their vote
on applications. Board members have repeatedly said they do not have
sufficient information to reverse reviewer decisions. They also do
not want to offend reviewers. The board fears that they might abandon the task of reviewing applications for the agency if their decisions are not
supported by the board.
Trounson, who announced last fall he is
leaving the stem cell agency, offered no explanation for his move to
turn the longstanding board practice on its head. Nor did he discuss
why the genomics round should be limited to one award when the RFA
stipulated one or two.
He did not discuss the policy implications of
the state of California giving a $33 million leg-up to a
single consortium in a hot, fast-growing scientific and business
arena. He did not comment on the possibility that this consortium
would be less than welcoming to rival researchers.
He did not discuss
whether creation of this consortium was akin to creating an
organization like WARF that sets the rules and controls the playing
field on the use of important human embryonic stem cell lines, much
to the displeasure of many scientists, including Trounson himself.
Nor did he even publicly disclose the amount of money that was
requested by researchers whose applications he would deny.
There may be good reasons for
Trounson's position. But he owes the board and the public more than a
cryptic decree sent forth from his post at 210 King Street in San
Francisco. Especially in light of the charges of unfairness, score manipulation and more leveled last week by rival researchers in the round.