Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Intermittent Reports: Wandering the Sea of Cortez

As all sailors must from time to time, we have hoisted anchor. This time to venture out into the Sea of Cortez for a number of weeks. Our new anchorages will be in remote desert locations where few people live and even land-based electricity is not to be had. That means reports will be be more intermittent on the California Stem Cell Report.

For those of you interested in such matters, we have been following the affairs of the California stem cell agency and posting reports via WiFi access here in romantic Old Mexico. Our WiFi link was from the cockpit of our sailboat, which was in a marina, to a a commercially provided antenna about ½ mile away. Cost of the service: About $18 US a month. Prior to that we used free WiFi service available in cantinas and restaurants in our location near Guaymas.

We are departing Guaymas to sail to the Baja California peninsula. We expect to use cellular data service (GPRS) to browse the Web and file reports. If that does not serve well, we will use an Internet cafe, which is much more cumbersome and slow, primarily because one must download the information, cart it off to the HQ of the California Stem Cell Report (a 39-foot Freedom cat-rigged ketch), digest the brew, write, retrace our steps to the Internet cafe and post the nuggets.

Meanwhile, if you see of items of interest, please alert me at or just by filing a comment by clicking on the word "comment," which follows this item. Thank you.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Rebel Stem Cell Directors Not Happy with Klein

Dissident directors of the California stem cell agency took a crack at chairman Robert Klein, who barely fended off their move earlier this week.

The rebellion occurred at a little-noticed meeting Monday night of the agency's new legislative subcommittee and was reported exclusively this morning in a column by Stuart Leavenworth, associate editor of The Sacramento Bee and the only journalist attending the session.

The issue that triggered the flap was the chairmanship of the committee, according to Leavenworth.

"Although Klein convened the subcommittee assuming he would chair it, he quickly confronted an internal coup," Leavenworth reported.

Stem cell Oversight Committee member Joan Samuelson "bluntly suggested that Klein is becoming a political liability."

"'Bob has become a lightning rod and it is a difficult thing to deal with,' she said."

Another Oversight Committee member Jeff Sheehy said, "We are getting killed by the press. We are getting killed by the Legislature. We are getting killed by people who support us."

Leavenworth continued:

"The subcommittee has good reason to be angry. In recent months, Klein has hired lobbyists and public relations firms without consulting his fellow board members. A millionaire developer from the Bay Area, he has picked some of his personal aides to be institute employees. At one point he proposed an organizational chart that gave him his own exclusive staff, including the institute's legal counsel.

"All the while, Klein and the institute have treated all critics as enemies. Although embryonic stem cell research faces opposition from conservative Christians, some of the institute's most vocal critics have been groups such as Common Cause and Californians Aware, who do not oppose stem cell research but want the agency to operate more openly.

"There are also critics such the Pro-Choice Alliance Against Proposition 71, whose leaders fear the biomedical industry holds too much sway over this public body.

"After more than an hour of heated debate, the subcommittee deadlocked 5-5 on a motion that would effectively demote Klein as the institute's political leader.

"That's when Edward Penhoet, founder of Chiron Corp. and vice chair of the institute's oversight board, stepped in to give Klein a one-vote margin. Penhoet's participation was somewhat surprising, given that the institute, in its prior press release, didn't even list him as a legislative subcommittee member.

"In the end, Klein was saved not by his fellow patient advocates, but by a Southern California contingent of industrialists and academics who serve on the institute's oversight board. These included Tina Nova, CEO of a San Diego biomedical firm; Dr. John Reed, president of the La Jolla-based Burnham Institute; Susan Bryant, dean of biological sciences at UC Irvine; and Richard Murphy, president of the Salk Institute. (Murphy is also a director of the California Healthcare Institute, a biomedical industry group that has lobbyied against tougher conflict-of-interest rules for the stem cell program.)"

Separately, The Bee editorialized on the agency's new disclosure requirements.

"Sen. Deborah Ortiz, D-Sacramento, deserves credit for nudging California's institute in the right direction with her proposed constitutional amendment, SCA 13. Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata, bowing to pressure from Klein's allies, Sens. Joe Dunn and Jackie Speier, has now put that measure on hold. He shouldn't bury it, however," The Bee wrote.

"Within the stem cell institute, eminent doctors and patient advocates are staging a rebellion against Klein....If lawmakers keep the pressure on, the truly independent members of the institute's oversight committee may feel emboldened to go beyond Klein and his marginal policy enhancements. At that point, critics will no longer be tempted to describe the institute as a 'quasi-public agency.'"

Leavenworth's column demonstrated the value of diligent reporting (as in sitting through yet another tedious meeting). It will be interesting to see what other media do to play catch-up.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Gurgling as Money and Brains Drain to the West

"The idea that if you throw money at it, people will come is true. Money talks." -- Zena Werb, a cell biologist at UCSF.

Just one quote from a fine overview of what California institutions are doing regarding the $3 billion stem cell bonanza in the Golden State.

Reporter Betsy Mason of the Contra Costa Times wrote:

"California's universities and research institutions are scrambling to position themselves for Prop. 71 funds. Nearly every institution in the state with its hands in the stem cell game or aspiring to join it is creating jobs for people experienced with the gifted little cells. Scientists are adamant that the healing potential of stem cells is real. But the stem cell field is itself in the embryonic stage and has very few senior scientists, perhaps just a couple of dozen, capable of heading a strong research group and training budding scientists. The draining sounds can already be heard gurgling through this small pool as California tries to satisfy its new appetite for the science.

"UCSF hopes to hire up to eight stem cell researchers in the next few years; Stanford is looking for five or six; UC Berkeley just hired one and is looking for at least one more; UCLA wants to fill its recently created stem cell institute with a dozen researchers; and UC San Diego hopes to bring on as many as 10.

"'Having a source of funds like this, which has suddenly come available to people only in the state of California, is a major benefit,' said Arnold Kriegstein, the director of UCSF's stem cell biology program. 'I get a lot of e-mail from people all over the world who are interested in coming to California.'

"The fierce competition within California for the top candidates will intensify as other states fight to keep their researchers. "The handful of people who are already doing this research can write their own ticket if they're good," said Randy Schekman, a stem cell researcher at UC Berkeley.

"Last month, Stanford managed to reel in two big catches, including Stefan Heller of Harvard. Heller was the first to identify adult stem cells in the inner ear of a mammal, and is at the top of his field."

Mason also quoted Mathew Lensch, an embryonic stem cell scientist at Harvard. "Now everybody asks if you're going to California. You want to talk about brain drain? The whole country's tilting to the west."

Stronger CIRM Standards Attract Little Notice

The California stem cell agency is moving forward with stronger conflict of interest standards in the wake of legislation that would have forced a ballot fight over even tougher standards.

A new legislative committee of the agency approved the new rules Monday night. And in an unusual move, the agency issued a midnight-hour press release announcing the action. The full Oversight Committee will consider the rules July 12 and is likely to approve a version of them.

The legislative committee's action has attracted little media notice, probably because it appeared to be a foregone conclusion. But the timing also discouraged coverage: an evening meeting that ran up against newspaper deadlines.

The standards approved by the committee had an interesting twist. To be changed, they would require a supermajority vote – 70 percent – of the Oversight Committee. That is the same vote requirement for a change of Proposition 71 itself by the legislature three years after passage – an irritating issue for some legislators.

According to CIRM's press release, the proposed standards would:

Require "divestment by ICOC members of financial investments in any business entity with more than 5% of its annual budget in stem cell therapies and in any business organization receiving a grant"

Broaden "conflict of interest provisions for working group members"

Provide "earlier public availability of full disclosure of working group funding recommendations"

Require "comprehensive reports to the State Legislature summarizing grant awards and recipients"

Ensure "increased public access to meetings of the Grants Working Group, the Standards Working Group and the Facilities Working group"

Provide "increased access to working group records"

The agency's press release also contained the following:

"'We are always striving to enhance our policies, and remain grateful for the support of Senators Perata, Ortiz, Speier, and Dunn,' said ICOC Chair Robert Klein. 'It is critical to public confidence in the CIRM that there be a clear understanding: we are building the finest standards for medicine, ethics, and competitive peer review in every aspect of the stem cell program. Our hope is that our collaboration with the public and the Legislature will create a model to serve as the standard for stem cell research in the nation.'

"Zach Hall, Ph.D, the Interim President of the CIRM, said a number of the standards that the subcommittee will recommend to the ICOC on July 12th in Irvine surpass the stringency of the National Institutes of Health and University of California standards."

Monday, June 20, 2005

New Jersey Lessons for California

While California is just embarking on a $3 billion stem cell research effort, New Jersey has already poured hundreds of millions of dollars into the biotech biz in its state. And it is considering pumping another $380 million into stem cell research.

New Jersey's efforts and its difficulties have some obvious implications for California. Reporter Clint Riley of the Record in New Jersey provided some perspective on the situation in the Garden in a couple of articles.

He reported on Sunday: "New Jersey's partnership with biotech is already running into problems. It is cloaked in secrecy and riddled with the potential for conflicts. Its goals are at times nebulous."

On Monday Riley wrote, "Secrecy is important to the biotech industry, in both its business and research incarnations. After all, this is a world where the sole ownership of ideas is the basis of profits. The picture is more complicated on the public side of the biotechnology partnership.
In particular, a closed-door culture poses significant challenges for those concerned about conflicts of interest."

His reports detail examples of where New Jersey's public interests and those of the private sector do not necessarily coincide. He also noted that New Jersey ponied up $500,000 for promotion at the 18,000-attendee BIO 2005 conference mentioned in the item below.

The articles make interesting reading for those following the affairs in California.

California "Gold Rush" Discussions at Stem Cell Conferences

This a busy week for biotech conferences around the county, including two that will pay some special attention to California.

In San Francisco on Thursday, California stem cell chairman Robert Klein is scheduled to be the keynote speaker at the meeting of the International Society for Stem Cell Research at the Marriott Hotel.

The society reports that San Francisco, CIRM and various universities are "rolling out the red carpet" for 2,000 delegates. Cost for registration at the conference is $720 at this late date. Sponsorship of the session at which Klein is speaking cost $15,000.

Back east, a huge biotech industry conference, BIO 2005, is expected to attract 18,000 persons in Philadelphia. The program is much larger and California is relegated to lesser prominence.

A panel on Tuesday will discuss CIRM, including an appearance by a member of the stem cell agency's Oversight Committee, Edward Holmes, vice chancellor of Health Sciences and dean of the UC San Diego School of Medicine. Title of the panel is "The New Gold Rush?"

He will share the platform with Tom Okarma, Ph.D., M.D., President, CEO & Director, Geron Corp. and Bob Hariri, Ph.D., President, Celgene Cellular Therapeutics. Chairing the panel will be Alan Lewis, Ph.D., President, Celgene San Diego and Joe Panetta, President & CEO, BIOCOM.

Registration for the conference is now $1,995.

It is not likely that a member of the public can just drop by to take in one of these sessions involving California public employees. This is not unusual. Gubernatorial appearances as well as those involving other public officials generally have limits on who may attend. Nonetheless, such policies have always struck me as a bit of a departure from the idea that government should be close to the people.

Friday, June 17, 2005

No Nasty Fall Election on Stem Cell Agency

Californians are not likely to get another chance this fall to vote on the California stem cell agency, which is a probably a good thing.

It would have been a nasty tussle, although there is a very slim chance that a ballot measure might emerge. As we noted in an item earlier this year, it would not have been in the best interests of the agency to have what basically amounts to a vote of confidence on CIRM.

This fall's election is likely to draw high participation from the right and far right, which would mean strong opposition to stem cell research. A ballot measure would have created a bully pulpit for foes of the program, and, regardless of the election outcome, the agency would have been savaged.

For now, the issues behind SCA13 will move forward in the form of a forthcoming letter to the agency expressing concerns of Democrats in the legislature.

News that the measure by Sen. Deborah Ortiz, D-Sacramento, has been put aside was broken by reporter Kevin Yamamura of The Sacramento Bee. The Associated Press did a brief version of the piece which then appeared on other newspaper web sites. But it appears that no other major California newspapers have matched Yamamura's story.

Instead of bringing SCA13 to a floor vote, he reported, "Democrats in the upper house...agreed to send a letter to the oversight committee insisting that the panel take action on its own by its July 12 meeting.

"Ortiz said lawmakers have agreed to pursue SCA13 if the oversight committee does not take action that resolves the Legislature's concerns. The letter being drafted would note that the Legislature could pursue SCA13 for the June 2006 ballot, though Ortiz still wants to leave open the possibility of putting the proposal before voters in November. She said she believes the Legislature has until August to put SCA 13 on the November ballot, if necessary.

"Ortiz had lined up support for SCA13 from the 15-member Senate Republican Caucus, but she needed at least 12 Democrats to sign on to the proposal to meet a two-thirds vote requirement.

"'There were a handful of (Democratic) members ready to support me on moving this off the floor," Ortiz said. 'But many others requested that we hold it, position it for June '06 and in the meantime send a fairly comprehensive letter outlining the policy concerns and acknowledging a desire by the Democratic caucus to move this forward in the future.'

"Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata, D-Oakland, said last week after a lengthy caucus meeting that Senate Democrats were in support of SCA 13, but he said there were strategic concerns about placing it on the November ballot.

"Ortiz described those concerns as 'mainly, how we can anticipate the messages that will be conveyed in the election and whether our resources, time and messaging should be prioritized to defeat initiatives problematic to Democrats.'"

Yamamura quoted stem cell chairman Robert Klein as saying, "We look forward to reviewing the letter and have benefitted greatly from the input of Sens. Perata, Ortiz, Dunn, Speier and their staffs, among others."

David Serrano Sewell, a member of the Oversight Committee and of the agency's legislative subcommittee, said he expects the stem cell panel to take some action on regulations by its July meeting. The legislative panel meets Monday to discuss changes in regulations.

Serrano Sewell said of Ortiz, "She has had a profound influence on the committee. We were going to make these changes, but if we have this (Ortiz proposal) out there, we're more motivated to do it. The issues she has raised are important."

However, the agency has record of strong opposition to Ortiz' issues, dating back to shortly after last fall's election. Technically it is possible later this summer for Ortiz to place a measure on the ballot should the agency be recalcitrant. But the position of the Democratic caucus is that they have more important political fish to fry in this fall's electoral battle with the governor.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Correction on Pomeroy Position

Based on incorrect information on the CIRM website, we erroneously described Claire Pomeroy's position at the UC Davis medical school in the item below. She is currently vice chancellor for human health sciences and dean of the UC Davis School of Medicine -- not executive associate dean.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Murky Money Matters, Disgruntled Directors

The burn rate at the California stem cell agency is about $300,000 a month and likely more. The agency already owes private businesses or other state agencies more than $300,000 after its first five months of life.

The spending is picayune compared to the $100s of millions the agency plans to lavish on stem cell research in California. But how the agency is handling information about its spending is triggering a bit of flap that touches on the credibility of a bureaucracy whose retort to critics is often "trust us."

Even directors of the agency are in the dark about how the agency spends its money, a fact that surfaced at the Oversight Committee earlier this month.

The exchange was not reported by the mainstream media which nearly always focuses on the current highest profile controversy.

According to a transcript of the meeting, the issue came up following discussion of the $5 million Dolby donation. Dr. Claire Pomeroy, executive associate dean of the UC Davis School of Medicine, then raised questions about the agency's budget as well as the $1 million in contracts it has authorized.

"If I was giving a donation of $5 million, I would probably want to see the budget of the organization to which I was donating. and I wonder what was told to them (the Dolbys) about our budget, and I wonder when we might as a board be seeing a budget," said Pomeroy, who has both an MBA and MD.

In response, Chairman Robert Klein referred to a "cash flow" budget that purportedly had given useful financial information. The only significant financial information in that document, however, was that the agency had a $3 million loan from the state that would be gone by November. It contained no breakdown on spending even in major categories.

Pomeroy then brought up the contracting issue. "It was somewhat disconcerting to have to learn from the newspaper(an article by reporter Laura Mecoy of The Sacramento Bee) that we have, in fact, given out over a million dollars in consulting contracts that I personally wasn't aware of and don't feel like I'd been informed about. Hopefully we'll be able to know about those."

Klein replied, "Doctor, we have not given out a million dollars in consulting contracts. The question is if we, as I believe, what the figures are, is if all of the legal fees with litigation were spent and all of the going through the end of the year, they extended out contracts through the end of the year that are not in existence yet, and are going to be brought to this board, for example, on the media public education contract is under review right now, is on a month-to-month basis, and will come to this board actually for review. So I learned from the article that there were some projections that, in fact, assume expenditures that, in fact, are not fully committed expenditures."

"That's good to hear," Pomeroy said. "And then when we get the data, we'll be able to respond when those kind of statements are made. It would be good to have that."

Klein said, "Yes. And I will hope that our governance committee will undertake that as one of their first objectives."

At least one other director indicated some unhappiness with budgetary information. And it is fair to say that they likely reflected unexpressed sentiments of some others on the 29-member board.

Upcoming: More on the Stem Cell Agency's Budget

We expect to have more information on the California stem cell agency's recondite budget dealings in a posting Wednesday.

Stem Cell Stakeholders Need the Financial Skinny

Californians know little about the budget or the spending of the California stem cell agency.

Officials have reported that money will run out in November unless more money is forthcoming. That was before the $5 million Dolby donation, which is presumably on its way.

Some details of spending by the agency have been published on this blog, including information about public relations programs and lobbying. Today reporter Laura Mecoy reported that "records requested by The (Sacramento) Bee that show (the agency) has contracted to spend up to $561,000 more than the $1.1 million previously reported for outside consultants and lawyers.

"The newly released records also show that the institute has $302,227 in debts or payments it has delayed to other state agencies, its law firm and others until it could get additional financing."

None of this is surprising. But given the public responsibilities of the agency and its pledge of openness and accountability, it is surprising that we have not seen a budget or least some sort of recap of spending from the agency. We understand that at least one Oversight Committee member is irritated at that failure.

It is also simply good government and good business to give the stakeholders the financial facts.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Bustamante Opposes SCA13

The Sacramento Bee carried a brief item on the lieutenant governor and SCA13. Here is the full text:

"In a last-minute lobbying effort, Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante sent a letter last week to senators urging them to block Sen. Deborah Ortiz's plan to impose new restrictions on the state's stem cell agency.

Bustamante has long backed the agency and had a close relationship with stem cell committee Chairman Robert Klein II, who adamantly opposes Ortiz's proposal. Klein gave $52,400 to Bustamante's campaign account in 2003.

"'Klein didn't ask him to write the letter," said Bustamante spokesman Stephen Green. "It's an issue (Bustamante) feels very strongly about.'"

Currently there is one vacancy on the stem cell agency's Oversight Committee, which Bustamante is due to fill soon with an appointee.

World Map Link Repaired

Thanks to the alert reader who told us about the bad link on the world stem cell map. It has been fixed.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

More on Reality: Summoning Up the Troops

The is warning of the peril posed by "over-eager salesmen" of stem cell cures, citing an article by a California researcher as opening the door for critics.

Written by the editors of the American Journal of Bioethics, the blog said:

"Today, dozens of children and others who argue - like us - for stem cell research are held up as potential recipients of embryonic stem cell-derived therapy, as though the big worry is that they will not receive their embryo pills next year and will suffer as a result. You don't have to have a long memory to see how dangerous these views can be. Just think back to gene therapy, and the clamor of folks to enroll in early, non-therapeutic trials because of the perceived magic of anything genetic. The very idea of 'gene therapy research' is an oxymoron, if you think about it, as was argued by Nancy King and others.

"Well, in California the arguments in favor of stem cell research are often a big more, um, dramatic than other places, and as a consequence the infractions of the 'do not promise therapies to subjects who will not be getting them yet' rule are more problematic. And it doesn't get worse than this one, by A Scientist In Irvine (Peter J. Bryant), who writes the San Francisco Chronicle to let us know that among the victims of unenlightened stem cell research are the soldiers in Iraq, who won't get their stem cell therapies and will die as a result. It isn't that the argument is wrong, and it certainly isn't that the argument isn't creative, it's that the argument is premature - and in some ways the point to make about stem cell research is that it will transform medicine entirely, including producing therapies that one day will not require the use of embryos, therapies that could never have been produced without the use of this research. Yes that will one day help soldiers. But the promulgation of this 'get it now or else' thing just makes it easier for the opponents of stem cell research to paint stem cell researchers as over-eager salesmen of therapeutic misconception."

For more on this subject, see the "reality check" item below.

Check Out World Stem Cell Map

We have added some new links to this blog and restored some of the old ones that were lost when we reformatted. The links are annotated as well. A couple of nifty ones are the maps of stem cell research and the world stem cell map. If you have suggestions for additional links, please send them or just click on "comment" below.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Reality Check on a "Recipe for Trouble"

A Harvard stem cell researcher has weighed in with a reminder about the tedious nature of scientific research, especially regarding stem cells.

It stands in contrast to the contentions of officials from the California stem cell agency that their enterprise is a life-and-death matter. Certainly it is important to get on with stem cell research. But the time line on development of stem cell therapies is years, perhaps decades. And then there is the old saw about slowing down so you can go faster.

This is not to demean or diminish the needs of those living with diseases that may be alleviated with stem cell therapy.

David A. Shaywitz, an endocrinologist and stem-cell researcher at Harvard University, wrote in an article that appeared in the Washington Post and the San Francisco Chronicle:

"Advocacy groups must ...level with their stakeholders and explain why treatments based on stem cells will take such a long time to materialize."

He added, "At the same time, these organizations must continue to push scientists to work harder and achieve results faster, encouraging investigators to keep in mind the patients in whose name the research is being conducted (and funded)."

Shaywitz addressed California specifically:

"The explicit expectation of rapid clinical progress -- a key component of California's stem-cell initiative, for example -- is a recipe for trouble. If embryonic stem cells are rushed into clinical trials before the solid science has been done, the resulting fiasco could easily doom the entire future of the field."

"The truth is that science -- good science -- can be maddeningly slow," the stem cell researcher said.

Friday, June 10, 2005

Special Insights vs. Possible Special Interests

The building blocks are slipping into place. The California stem cell agency has approved the membership of its facilities working group, including four high-powered "real estate specialists."

The law requires that four members of the group be persons with special knowledge of the real estate industry. What that means is that they have deep roots and ties to the real estate business. Nothing wrong with that. They will bring special insight and knowledge that can be very useful to CIRM. It also means that they may have financial interests that may conflict with the interests of the people of California. Under the current CIRM rules, the people of California will never know what those interests might be. They have to trust the agency and the appointees.

The agency issued a press release on the appointments which said:

“Building research facilities for stem cell research will be a top priority for the CIRM. Current federal restrictions on use of laboratory equipment and space add a special urgency to the mission of the Facilities Working Group,” said Interim President Zach Hall, Ph.D. “This outstanding team of experts will ensure that California stem cell researchers will have high-quality laboratories built in a cost-effective manner.”

"The 11-member Scientific and Medical Research Facilities Working Group makes recommendations to the ICOC that governs on interim and final criteria, requirements and standards for applications for, and the awarding of, grants and loans for buildings, building leases, and capital equipment. The Facilities Working Group will also make recommendations to the ICOC on oversight procedures to ensure grantees’ compliance with the terms of an award."

Here is a look what the agency has to say about the four:

"David Lichtenger is President and Chief Executive Officer of Integrity Office Solutions (IOS), which he founded in 1999. Over the past 20 years, Lichtenger has been personally involved in the planning, design, and construction of over 10 million square feet of projects. IOS project management includes: real estate site and lease evaluation, needs analysis, architectural design, engineering, construction, technology, furniture, A/V, security and relocation services with a guaranteed price and schedule completion date. Projects have included many types of facilities: mission critical data centers, biotechnology and engineering laboratories, clean rooms, medical facilities, offices and manufacturing facilities. IOS serves clients across business sectors: technology, medical device, biotechnology, consulting, financial, healthcare, manufacturing, and non-profit. Prior to IOS, Lichtenger was involved in various real estate development projects."

"Edward M. Kashian of Fresno is the CEO and founder of Lance-Kashian & Company, one of the Central Valley’s leading firms in real estate development, asset management and property management. It has served California since 1964, developing regional shopping centers, office complexes, industrial projects and pioneering master-planned corporate communities. Kashian was a partner in the first “power center” built in the country, which still exists in Fresno. Currently he is the managing partner for River Park Properties, developers of River Park Shopping Center, the co-managing partner for Fancher Creek Properties, LLC, a general partner of Kashian Enterprises and the Fresno Historic Chinatown, LLC."

Deborah Hysen is currently Project Director for the California Performance Review, adjunct to the Department of General Services (DGS). She is responsible for start-up and day-to-day functions of this comprehensive review of government established by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2004. Hysen previously served as Acting Chief Deputy Director at DGS, where she directed the operations of 14 operating divisions and offices providing services to state agencies throughout California, including the Division of the State Architect, Real Estate Services, Office of Public School Construction and Procurement. As a Senior Property Manager at Insignia Commercial Group, she established and implemented policies and procedures that governed the financial performance of the Citibank Building in Los Angeles, a one million square foot Class “A” high-rise. Hysen was previously a property manager for Columbia Savings and Loan, followed by three years as General Manager of Optima Capital Management.

"Albert “Rusty” Doms was CEO and President of his company, Karsten Realty Advisors, from 1972-1994. The company provided real estate investment management services for pension funds and development management services. Before running Karsten, Doms spent six years at Economics Research Associates performing market research and financial feasibility studies for real estate and recreation properties. Mr. Doms has spent several years in service to his community and volunteering for non-profit organizations in various roles, such as Pomona College, the Children’s Bureau, the Los Angeles Building Authority, St. John’s Health Center Foundation, and the Project Advisory Committee for Los Angeles County."

For more details on their professional background see this link.

A Retrospective on Prop. 71 in Houston

If you are looking for a hot time this weekend – stem cell wise – check out Houston.

The Stem Cell Policy and Advocacy Summit gets underway there beginning tomorrow. The Genetics Policy Institute, which is sponsoring the conference, says, "This is a critical time for the advocacy community to develop winning strategies to overcome Draconian legislation and secure adequate funding for research."

South Korea's Woo Suk Hwang will appear. Also scheduled is a look at California post-Prop. 71, including a talk by Jim Battey of the NIH. The political consultant behind the Prop. 71 campaign, Paul Mandabach, and others involved in the campaign will be appearing as well.
You can read more about the conference here.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Effort to Shunt SCA13 Fails

The proposed ballot measure to tighten oversight of the California stem cell agency has survived a move to sidetrack it back into a legislative committee. The legislation remains on the Senate floor and could come up for a vote as early as Thursday (June 9).

Sen. Joe Dunn, D-Santa Ana, who has made his legislative bones chewing up energy companies, Wednesday futilely attempted to have the proposal sent to the Judiciary Committee, which he chairs, although the bill has already cleared three legislative committee.

CIRM and Sen. Deborah Ortiz, D-Sacramento, are at loggerheads over her proposed constitutional amendment. Ortiz supported Prop. 71, which created the stem cell agency, but believes the agency should be more accountable and open and ensure that therapies developed with state funds are available to all. The agency believes her measure, SCA13, would cripple the agency and delay cures that could save lives.

One of the key CIRM arguments holds that SCA13 would endanger the issuance of the $3 billion in bonds to fund research. But the state's bond counsel, Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe, denies that in a very brief June 7 memo to Ortiz and stem cell chairman Robert Klein.

If you are truly a policy wonk, here are the two salient paragraphs from the memo:

"As drafted, we do not believe the new Section 9(a) (of SCA13) would be an impediment to the issuance of bonds by the State. This is based on the inclusion of the term 'seek to ensure' in the measure, which changes this from a prescriptive rule to a statement of intent or aspiration. We do not believe officials at the ICOC would have a difficulty certifying that they will be seeking the results set out in Section 9(a), although of course we cannot speak for them. We understand the language circulated at the ICOC meeting yesterday (Monday) morning did not include the words 'seek to.' In the absence of those words, we would continue to believe, as stated in a prior Memorandum to (an aide to Ortiz), that such a provision in Article XXXV would be a significant problem for the issuance of bonds.

"Nothing in the proposed Section 9(a) interferes with the ability of the State to issue tax-exempt bonds. As we have stated numerous times in writing and in conversations with you, the final determination of our ability to opine on the tax exemption of any particular issue of State bonds will depend on many factors, including the exact terms of intellectual property conditions which are included with grants or loans made by the CIRM."

The Bee: State Bond Counsel Says No SCA13 Problem

California's bond counsel says the proposed stem cell ballot measure will not interfere with the ability of the state to issue stem cell research bonds, contrary to the position taken by CIRM.

The Sacramento Bee Wednesday disclosed the existence of the memo from Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe. The Bee said in an editorial, "(Sen. Deborah) Ortiz has worked to amend her measure so it would have no possible impact on the issuance of stem cell bonds. The state's bond counsel - Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe - confirmed that point Tuesday when it issued a memo stating: 'Nothing in the proposed Section 9(a) interferes with the ability of the state to issue tax-exempt bonds.'"

The piece also discussed the opposition of Democratic senators, Sens. Jackie Speier, D-Hillsborough, and Joe Dunn, D-Santa Ana, to SCA13. Dunn is reportedly seeking to have the measure removed from the Senate floor and sent to the Judiciary committee he chairs. The measure has already been through three Senate committees.

The Bee said, "Dunn and Speier have built their reputations on consumer protection, accessible health care and open government. But Monday, they blatantly pandered to stem cell czar Robert Klein II, who orchestrated a lobbying campaign Monday against Sen. Deborah Ortiz, D-Sacramento, and her SCA 13 measure.

"Ortiz's measure, among other things, would guard against public funds going to companies that secretly set up consulting and stock deals with scientists who recommend the funding.

"This is not just an abstract concern.

"As Dunn knows, the energy giant Enron secretly paid researchers at Harvard to churn out reports extolling the deregulation scheme that California ultimately adopted. Those conflicts came to light only after California became mired in an energy crisis Enron helped create."

Dunn has been heavily involved into looking to energy issues related to the California electricity crisis of a few years back.

Chron Makes Stem Cell News Easier to Find

The San Francisco Chronicle is aggregating its stem cell coverage online, a move that should be emulated by other California newspapers and news sites. Now if the SFGate would only put an RSS feed on the package so that it would alert "stemmies" automatically when updates are made. You can see what appears to be all of the 2005 stem cell stories that have appeared in the paper by just going to this link. The package goes back to Jan. 4 and also includes editorials, another useful feature.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Public Posturing, the "Trust Us" Position and Industry Ties

The face-off Monday between the California stem cell agency and California's most influential legislator on stem cell matters does not appear to have resolved much, at least based on news reports.

Something could be bubbling below the surface, but it is not making much of a ripple yet.

At the Monday meeting, Sen. Deborah Ortiz, D-Sacramento, argued that the agency should support her measure. Oversight Committee members were not impressed.

Reporter Dan Morain of the Los Angeles Times quoted Caltech President David Baltimore as saying, "I don't know what her motivation is. But I know the result is extremely dangerous and could undermine the whole reputation of the state as a leader in stem cell research."

Ortiz said she will press forward with a vote on SCA13 later this week. But, according to Morain, Ortiz pledged that if the Legislature's attorney or state bond attorneys tell her she is "jeopardizing bonds, or my criteria and language is too vague and will encourage litigation, I will not move the measure forward."

"I'm driven by that, but it has to be based on the attorneys I'm working with," Ortiz said.

Reporter Carl Hall of the San Francisco Chronicle wrote, "Ortiz said she hasn't ruled out the possibility of withdrawing her proposal if the stem cell institute makes the right moves, and she repeatedly promised to make any changes that are needed to clear up worries about bond issues."

The public events predictably involved some posturing on both sides. Whether a compromise can be worked out is difficult to tell from this perspective.

The Oversight Committee says SCA13 is a life-and-death matter so Ortiz should back off. The same argument can said for its stance. Intransigence by the board certainly is a major element in keeping this whole issue alive.

The merits of the agency's "trust us" position goes only so far. California history is replete with examples of agencies that were or are little more than handmaidens of the industries they are supposed to regulate or are connected to in some fashion. The board that oversees physicians is one example, although it has improved in the last 10 or 20 years. Agriculture is another example of an agency that is a captive of its industry, which is one of the largest in California. The real estate department is still another.

The stem cell agency already has built-in ties with its industry. Those links are likely to grow in coming years. It behooves the Oversight Committee to at least assure disclosure of basic information about such connections, one of the matters that the Ortiz legislation concerns.

As for the argument that scientists would turn away from stem cell research grants because of economic disclosure requirements -- give us a break. Certainly a few might, but these are likely to be folks whose industry ties are dubious. Venture capitalists have long been successful at compelling entrepreneurs to surrender to the most onerous demands. The lure of $3 billion is likely to overcome the reluctance of any sensible scientist.

Here are related links to SCA13: Sacramento Bee story by Kevin Yamamura, the latest CIRM analysis of SCA13(June 1 version of the measure).

In separate items below is information from Ortiz' office that is not available on her web site.

SCA13: Ortiz Statement

The following is from Sen. Ortiz' office and was not available on her web site this morning.

SACRAMENTO – Senator Deborah Ortiz (D-Sacramento) today issued the following statement after addressing the Independent Citizen’s Oversight Committee regarding Senate Constitutional Amendment 13:
“I introduced Senate Constitutional Amendment 13 with one purpose: to strengthen Proposition 71 regarding conflicts of interest and financial disclosures, ensuring public accountability and open participation in the $3 billion, taxpayer-funded California stem cell research program.
“I have had numerous conversations and meetings with stem cell research advocates, officials with the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, members of the Independent Citizens Oversight Committee, medical and scientific experts, and both tax and bond counsel.
“We have made progress in crafting a measure that will provide full accountability and ensure the public’s confidence in the integrity of the system. I have been working with legislative and bond counsel to ensure that SCA 13 will do nothing to jeopardize the ability of stem cell research to proceed or hamper the state’s authority to issue tax-exempt bonds. Under SCA 13, California will continue to attract the best and brightest scientists and researchers, protecting their legitimate privacy concerns while making sure that research grants they recommend for funding are the best proposed projects.
“The only remaining issue is how we secure a strong commitment from the ICOC to deliver the therapies and drugs developed through stem cell research to Californians who face catastrophic illnesses and huge medical and prescription drug expenses. Despite its promise, Proposition 71 as currently written does not provide a way to ensure the results of stem cell research are made affordable and accessible to California’s health programs and needy residents.
“I urge members of the ICOC to continue working with me to ensure Proposition 71 delivers on its promise while protecting the taxpayers’ investment. California is the venture capitalist in this bold endeavor. The state’s residents are funding the research; they should have access to the cures that are developed as a result of their generosity and their hopes.”
# # #

SCA13: Ortiz' Summary

The following is from Sen. Ortiz' office and is not available on her website:

SCA 13 (Ortiz and Runner)
Prop. 71 Open Meetings, Conflict of Interest,
and Patenting and Licensing
Fact Sheet
SCA 13 would strengthen the public accountability provisions of Proposition 71, the Stem Cell Research and Cures initiative, by ensuring that principles of open government, protections against conflicts of interest, and the taxpayers’ interest are fully incorporated in decision-making under the initiative.
In passing Proposition 71, voters have entrusted the state with managing $3 billion in new funds for stem cell research. The cost of repaying bonds with interest will range up to $6 billion.
While Proposition 71 contains provisions concerning open meetings, conflicts of interest, and handling of royalties and intellectual property rights, as drafted and as they are being implemented by the ICOC, they do not go far enough to fully protect the state's interest. For example:
The initiative and the implementation of it explicitly exempts some Proposition 71 working groups from open meeting requirements, even when they consider broad policies and standards. These are expert groups whose recommendations will carry enormous weight, and are unlikely to be overturned by the governing committee.
The initiative and the ICOC’s implementation of it fail to require disclosure of economic interests by working group members, and instead relies on self-certification of conflicts of interest.
Regarding patents and licenses associated with research funded by Prop. 71, the initiative simply requires the ICOC to balance the interests of taxpayers with those of ensuring that important research moves forward, instead of ensuring therapies and treatments resulting from Prop. 71-funded research are accessible and affordable.
What SCA 13 Does
SCA addresses these problems by:
Applying open meeting standards to all deliberations of the ICOC and its working groups, with exceptions as necessary to conduct scientific peer review and to protect proprietary or scientific prepublication information;
Allowing an opportunity for public comment on the basis for approval or denial of applications for funding before recommendations for funding are submitted to the ICOC;
Requiring working group members to disclose to the ICOC relevant economic and property interests and to adhere to NIH economic conflict of interest standards, and requiring the State Auditor to periodically review the ICOC’s monitoring and enforcement of conflict of interest provisions for working group members;
Requiring the ICOC to seek to ensure, in negotiating intellectual property agreements, that therapies and treatments resulting from inventions and technologies developed with Prop. 71 funding are accessible and affordable to low-income residents, including those eligible for state and county-funded health care programs.
Proposition 71 gives California an opportunity to realize the enormous potential represented by stem cell research. SCA 13 simply ensures that Prop. 71 funding decisions are reached and carried out in a publicly accountable manner.
Organizations in Support
Californians Aware
Common Cause
California Tax Reform Association

SCA13: Current and Planned Amendments

The following is from Sen. Ortiz' office and is not available on her website:

SCA 13 (Ortiz) – Current and Planned Amendments
SCA 13 as Amended 5/31/05
Planned Amendments
Open Meetings
--ICOC and Institute
Meetings of Institute and ICOC subject to California open meeting laws, with exceptions permitted under the Bagley-Keene open meeting act, consistent with Prop. 71 as drafted.
Clarify that the ICOC may consider matters involving patient information, confidential intellectual property or work products, matters involving prepublication, scientific information or data, and matters involving personnel, and that records including such information are exempt from public disclosure.
--Working Groups
Allowed to conduct closed sessions to conduct peer review, including to evaluate and score individual projects, and to consider matters involving intellectual property, proprietary information, and prepublication scientific information.
Grants working group required to produce a written summary of its reasons for funding or not funding any project as well as how each project recommended for funding will benefit California residents. it would also be asked to conduct an open public meeting to solicit public comments before submitting recommendations to the ICOC.
Written summaries could be posted on the Institute’s website, with an opportunity for the public to post comments, in lieu of holding a public meeting to invite public comment.
Public summaries of projects limited to a short description of the project, the disease category addressed by the project, the geographic region represented by the project, and the general reasons for the decision to fund or not fund the project. Intent is not to identify individual applicants or to publicly air the specific weaknesses of their proposals.
Conflicts of Interest
--ICOC members, Chair, Vice Chair, President of Institute
Required to file form 700’s and disclose their economic interests in the manner set forth in the Political Reform Act, as currently required in prop. 71
Required to divest or place in blind trust any financial or real property interest in any organization that applies for funding or that has substantial interests in stem cell therapy, defined as greater than 5 percent of its research budget.
Delete the divestiture requirement for ICOC members, Chair, Vice Chair, and President, and instead rely on the existing PRA disclosure and recusal requirements, or narrow the divestiture requirement to financial investments in designated entities.
--Working group members
Required to file form 700s and disclose their economic interests to the ICOC.
ICOC would provide the State Auditor with the disclosure statements. Auditor would be required to annually review disclosure statements as well as decisions or recommendations of each working group member and report findings to the Legislature regarding whether working group members have complied with requirements.
Apply the NIH requirement that members must recuse themselves from deliberation on any proposal if they or a close relative or professional associate has a financial interest in the proposal, including a direct benefit of any type deriving from the proposal itself, or a financial benefit of any type from an applicant institution of over $5,000 per year, including honoraria, fees, stock, or other benefits.
Narrow the scope of disclosure for working group members, perhaps to reporting interests (investments and income) in entities doing business with the institute and in biotech and pharmaceutical companies.
Intellectual Property
Requires grants and contracts to ensure that clinical treatments resulting from the research are made available at affordable costs to low-income residents and that the state is provided with a share of the royalties or revenues derived from the development of the treatments or services.
Delete the “except as otherwise provided in this article” language in section 6 of the bill, to make it clear that any conditions imposed by the bill are not conditions on the sale of the bonds themselves.
Delete the specific criteria in section 9 in favor of a broader policy statement requiring the ICOC, in negotiating intellectual property agreements, to ensure that therapies and treatments resulting from research funded by Prop. 71 dollars are affordable and accessible to California residents, particularly those eligible for state and county funded programs. This will remove grounds for litigation of individual projects and focus IP agreements in areas that produce the greatest benefits for taxpayers and do not jeopardize the ability to use tax-exempt bonds.

Monday, June 06, 2005

Cash Rolls In, Contracts Roll Out

The California stem cell agency has some good news today – a $5 million grant from the man responsible for Dolby sound on recordings.

Both The Sacramento Bee and the San Francisco Chronicle reported the donation this morning. Stem cell chairman Robert Klein
told reporter Carl Hall of the Chronicle that "the $5 million will be used to hire the legal, scientific and intellectual-property staff needed to proceed with the first grant programs, while the institute also pursues a $100 million short-term bridge financing plan."

"In a news release planned for today, Klein said, 'The Dolbys are fascinated by the possibility of a significant advancement of medical science through regenerative medicine research,'" Hall reported. The grant comes from both Ray Dolby and his wife, Dagmar.

The agency has run through about half of its $3 million startup loan from the state and will run out of money in November if it does not receive additional funds.

Reporter Laura Mecoy of The Bee wrote that the agency has signed contracts worth $1.1 million with private firms, including lobbyists and lawyers, and has more in the works. She said that Klein could recall only one that was competitively bid: an executive search firm's contract.

Mecoy continued, "While most other state agencies must solicit bids on contracts worth $4,999 or more, Klein said the institute doesn't have to go through the bidding process for its personal-services contracts.

"He cited a little-known provision of Prop. 71, the initiative that created the institute, that exempts the stem cell institute from competitive bidding requirements for such contracts.

"He said it's based on a University of California exemption that gives health-related agencies the leeway to contract with those with specialized knowledge.

"He contended that each of the contracts, including one being negotiated for the Edelman public relations firm, required such specialized knowledge."

Chronicle reporter Hall said that the University of California has loaned the stem cell agency staff assistance in human resources and hiring. It was not clear whether the agency would repay UC, which has its own financial problems, for the help.

For more on Edelman, see the "Hello to Edelman" and "Edelman Blog" items on April 22. For more on the contracts, see "$10,000 Lobbyist" May 5.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

CIRM Battling on Wrong Turf

From the White House to India, readers around the world on Sunday were told of the travails of the California stem cell agency.

"A battle for control of the $3 billion in research money voters approved last year has unraveled the alliance and threatens to hinder the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine even before it awards its first grant, agency officials say."

That was the second paragraph of a 788-word story by biotechnology reporter Paul Elias of The Associated Press. The story was circulated globally by the news service.

The story primarily focused on the battle over SCA13, the proposed ballot measure to tighten oversight of the agency. Pretty familiar ground for readers of this blog, but new to most others.

What makes this important for the agency is the continuing drumbeat of negative coverage nationally and internationally. While Elias' piece was straightforward, its overall impact was not good for the agency. It should instead be generating coverage of accomplishment and good works.

CIRM is fighting a PR battle on its enemies' turf instead of building on the considerable good will coming out of last fall's election in which 59 percent of the voters approved creation of the agency. It is time for the agency to do what is necessary to defuse the major issues so that it can move beyond the corrosive criticism that is eroding its effectiveness.

That also seems to the sentiment of at least one member of the stem cell Oversight committee, Dr. Francisco Prieto. He told Elias that he hopes a compromise can be reached soon on SCA13.

"I think the approach we have taken as a board has been more confrontational than it needs to be," Prieto said.

For more on the long range impact of the proposed ballot measure, see the "Vote Again..." item April 15 on this blog.

Is CIRM Truly Transparent?

Count the reasons why the California stem cell agency should be more open to the public. There are 75,027 of them.

At least that's a start.

Take 27 of them first. The agency noted with some pride last week that 27 California institutions have expressed an interest in an important training grant program to create a cadre of stem cell researchers. Most of them are undoubtedly public or nonprofit universities, colleges or nonprofit organizations, such as the Salk Institute.

But will California taxpayers ever learn the identity of these institutions, except for the handful ultimately selected? Not according to CIRM, which rebuffed a request for their identities because the grants are ostensibly being handled by a "working group." Those are entities linked to CIRM but whose records are closed to public view.

This is a level of secrecy that exceeds that of the California's governor's office. For example, the governor's daily schedule is a public record. We can learn who he met with and the subject of meetings. Not so with working groups, apparently.

The names of the 27 institutions are a relatively minor matter, but one wonders what other information is or will be cloaked in secrecy, despite the promises by the agency to set the highest standards of openness and transparency.

Now for the 75,000 other reasons. That is the national number of "expert clinicians and researchers (who) now consult for hedge funds, stock analysts, venture capitalists or other sophisticated investors." So reports a study published last month in the Journal of the American Medical Association, which was critical of the practice.

"That's up from 15,000 doctors who consulted in 2002, and fewer than 1,000 in 1996," wrote reporter Luke Timmerman in the Seattle Times, in a piece about the study. That amounts to one in 10 physicians nationwide.

While the study did not deal directly with stem cell research, it indicated the growing scope of the problem of ethical behavior involving medical affairs and research. Critics of the stem cell agency want broader public disclosure of the financial interests of key personnel. "But that's not the way it has always been done" is the thrust of CIRM's position. More aggressive disclosure will drive scientists away from the $3 billion research pool, CIRM contends.

Times have changed, however, as the AMA article points out. In less than 10 years, tens of thousands of physicians have begun to engage in activities that the editor of the AMA Journal now finds "hard to believe."

The AMA article dealt primarily with the private sector. CIRM is handling public money. While there is clearly a need for protection of proprietary information, personnel matters and other such information, the public deserves more, rather than less disclosure of CIRM's most sensitive workings.

Ortiz To Address CIRM Monday Morning

The California state senator behind the proposed ballot measure to tighten oversight of the California stem cell agency will appear before that agency on Monday.

Sen. Deborah Ortiz, chair of the Senate Health Committee and the most influential state lawmaker on stem cell issues, was invited on Thursday to speak to the Oversight Committee Monday morning in Sacramento.

The committee scheduled the meeting for Sacramento so that it could lobby against Ortiz' proposed constitutional amendment, SCA13, which may be taken up this week by the full Senate.

The board unanimously opposes the measure.

Ortiz' appearance poses an interesting contrast to the position taken by stem cell chairman Robert Klein, who refused to testify before an unusual joint hearing of the Senate and Assembly Health Committee into the new agency and related stem cell issues.

For more on Klein's refusal, see the following items on this blog: "Missing Man" March 15, "Roiling Undercurrents" March 16.

The Bridge Loan Plan: A Few More Details

Facing the possibility that it will run out of funds by this fall, the California stem cell agency on Monday will push forward with its "bridge financing" proposal.

Up for consideration at the Oversight Committee meeting in Sacramento is the bridge loan plan along with unspecified other financial possibilities.

CIRM has developed the plan because its normal ability to issue hundreds of millions of dollars in bonds is severely restricted pending the outcome of a lawsuit that challenges the existence of the new agency.

A report prepared by the agency's staff said that two law firms have indicated that the legal challenge is "meritless." The report also contains more details on the legal counter to the lawsuit including legal citations.

The agency proposes to borrow millions from philanthropic groups with the funds either going to the state or "to universities and non-profit research institutions that the Institute has selected to receive research grants." Donors would not be eligible to be grant recipients. The loans would not be paid back if Prop. 71 is overturned.

"We are meeting with the staffs of the Treasurer, the Controller, the Attorney General and the State Director of Finance to ensure that all of the constitutional officers responsible for the state’s finances and its legal obligations concur with this proposal. As those meetings proceed, we are working with the staff for the Treasurer and the Attorney General to draw up appropriate loan documents," the CIRM staff report said.

State Treasurer Phil Angelides on May 10 indicated he would hold a hearing into the matter within a month or so. However, no date has been set for that hearing.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Competition for Creation of a Stem Cell Cadre

Twenty-seven California institutions are competing for a share of the first $45 million in grants from the California stem cell agency. It is a contest that will not attract the headlines of the HQ battle but one that is far more important.

The grants, which would be the agency's first, are aimed at creating a cadre of stem cell researchers in California who will push their research into clinical applications. Some grants could range as high as $1.25 million each annually to support as many as 16 "CIRM scholars."

The total of $45 million is expected to be spread out over three years among 18 universities, non-profit academic and research institutions with the first grants being awarded possibly as early as September.

"We are delighted at the robust response to our first call for grants. California’s next generation of scientists and clinicians is clearly eager to begin training for stem cell research and the development of new therapies for disease,” said Zach Hall, CIRM’s interim president. “These grants will create a vital foundation for future stem cell research in California.”

The agency's press release said that the grants are designed to encourage "institutions to create programs in which basic and clinical scientists are trained together in order to promote the flow of information from the laboratory to the clinic. Institutions are also required to offer a course in the social, legal and ethical implications of stem cell research as part of their curricula."

The agency envisions a three-tiered program with both large and small insitutions participating. Here is how CIRM described them.
  • A "comprehensive training program will educate at the pre-doctoral, post-doctoral and clinical levels. A Type I institutional grant will support up to 16 CIRM Scholars and operate on a total budget of up to $1.25 million per year.
  • An "intermediate training program will offer training at two of the three levels of education mentioned above. Type II grants may support up to ten CIRM Scholars at a given institution with a total budget of $800,000.
  • A "specialized training program will fund up to six CIRM Scholars at a total budget of $500,000."

The grants are aimed at educating students from "scientifically diverse backgrounds—including the relevant fields of biology, clinical training programs, bioengineering, as well as ethics and the law," the agency said.

"Because of the diversity of the California population, CIRM is particularly interested in training a diverse pool of investigators, including under-represented minorities, as CIRM Scholars and Mentors," the agency said.

The institutions, whose names were not immediately available, filed letters indicating their interest in the CIRM training program. The actual grant applications are due July 1.

How to Criticize This Blog and Other Matters

A couple of notes on how to use this web site.

Many of you have e-mail programs that can be used to automatically subscribe to the California Stem Cell Report. For example in Mozilla Thunderbird, you can do that by clicking on "subscribe" under the "file" command. Or you can use something called Bloglines. That is a free service that will handle multiple subscriptions and alert you automatically when new material is available. There are other ways to deal with subscriptions, which are known as RSS, Atom or Site Feeds. Here is a link to an article that will tell you more.

For those of you want to comment on an item, criticize this blog or praise or criticize the stem cell agency, you can do so directly on this blog. When the muse strikes you, click on "comments," which appears after each item. Your prose will be posted, untouched by human hands.

SCA13 Delayed, SB18 Advances to Assembly

Legislation requiring a performance audit of the California stem cell agency and creating protection for egg donors swept through the Senate on a 37-0 vote. However, a vote has been delayed at least until sometime next week on SCA13, the measure to tighten oversight of the agency.

The audit measure, SB18 by Sens. Deborah Ortiz, D-Sacramento, and George Runner, R-Antelope Valley, would require the State Auditor to conduct a performance audit of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine and the Independent Citizen’s Oversight Committee. The first audit report would be due to the Legislature by June 30, 2006.

The bill also would restore patient protections for egg and embryo donors by: requiring physicians to provide donors with a written summary of health impacts associated with human oocyte production, requiring donors to give written consent before donating oocytes for purposes of research, placing limits on the sale or transfer of human oocytes or embryos and limiting compensation to women to encourage them to produce human oocytes for the purposes of medical research.

The bill encourages the ICOC to commission and undertake research into the health impacts of ovarian stimulation drugs used in assisted oocyte production, according to Ortiz' office.

It now goes to the Assembly for further consideration.

More Job Openings at CIRM

Need work? The California stem cell agency is looking for a few good persons. The latest openings are posted on CIRM web site. They range from the president's job, which should be filled shortly, to the executive assistant to the "chair," which probably is really the chairman instead of piece of furniture.

Oddly, the notices do not indicate a pay range, although previous openings have been filled at salaries that some critics said were too high.
The executive assistant positions require typing, formating and proofreading documents. For those tasks it seems a four-year college degree and "four years of executive assistant experience supporting high level leaders or an equivalent combination of education and experience" are necessary. Admittedly the position has other, more significant responsibilities, but it seems a tad inefficient to have such a highly qualified person doing clerical work. Here are links to the job descriptions.
President, California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (pdf)
Scientific Program Officers and Scientific Review Officers (pdf)
Senior Officer for Medical & Ethical Standards (pdf)
Executive Assistant (pdf)
Executive Assistant to the Chair (pdf)

(Forgive my comments re the "chair" but expression remains an abomination. Next we will see a sentence that goes something like: "The chair impacted the agency's infrastructure." Yuck.)

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Patient Group Members Mobilize Against SCA13

Members of patient groups are barraging legislators with appeals to reject efforts to tighten oversight of the California stem cell agency. Some of the appeals are being couched in life-and-death terms.

The outpouring was predictable given the deep ties that the agency has with the groups, whose members hope to benefit from future therapies developed by research financed by the agency. A number of the members of the stem cell Oversight Committee come specifically from patient groups. The agency undoubtedly has lists of supporters as well. The allied nonprofit organization that grew out Prop. 71 campaign committee also is likely to be involved in the lobbying campaign, as it was earlier this year.

One email sent from a CIRM address by a CIRM staffer to a group of sympathizers was basically an informational pitch. It did note that the Oversight Committee thought SCA13 would have a detrimental effect. The email included attachments from a number of organizations concerned about SCA13, including the University of California, Stanford, USC, Caltech and the Salk Institute. It also included the agency's critical analysis of the legislation. But the email did not advocate that the recipients take a position or lobby legislators.

We should note that out of the six documents attached to the email, only one has been accessible to the general public in a posting on CIRM's web site.

In response to a question about lobbying on SCA13, Nicole Pagano, a spokeswoman for CIRM, said, "Those advocates who contact us receive information as any member of public would. ICOC members who are patient advocates like Joan Samuelson and Jeff Sheehy may attempt to educate their own communities and constituencies because they are opposed to SCA13 as currently drafted, but CIRM staff is not engaged in mobilization campaign efforts."

The measure is expected to come up for a vote on the Senate floor either Thursday or Friday.

If readers of this blog are interested in receiving copies of the items attached to the CIRM email, please send a note to me at I will send them along to you.

Californians Need Information Not Ballyhoo

Are Californians going to have a chance to genuinely see what the California stem cell agency is going to deal with at its meeting this month in Sacramento?

With three business days left before the meeting on Monday, the agency has posted only a laundry list of items on its web site. The subjects on the list are certainly important, but the information about them is limited to a word or two or a phrase.

We do know the following. Changes are being considered on the agency's conflict of interest code. The Oversight Committee is scheduled to discuss temporary financing measures that will prevent it from running out of money this fall. A proposed ballot measure that would create an electoral donnybrook, also this fall, is up for consideration. Appointment of real estate specialists to a stem cell working group is another topic. Also on the table is a six-month review of the agency. Actually this preceding summary of the agenda contains more information than the actual agenda items themselves.

In past months, the agency has posted background material – usually quite late -- on a few items scheduled to be brought up at the monthly meeting – not a lot but some. However, in May, the agenda for the Oversight Committee was nothing more than a list. The public was out of luck if it wanted to have any reasonable idea of the nature of the issues to be discussed.

As we have noted in the past, even the lowliest school district in California does a better job of informing the public in advance about its meetings.

The stem cell agency has ballyhooed its commitment to openness and transparency. But its actions tell a different story.

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