Monday, February 20, 2006

Frankenstein, Train Wreck or Good Listener?

The Los Angeles Times has joined The Sacramento Bee in calling for more public disclosure of the financial interests of scientific advisors to the California stem cell agency.

In an editorial today, the Times said,

"One issue the institute still must confront is making the financial disclosures of its scientific advisors open to the public. These scientists will recommend which grant proposals should be approved, and it's important for the public to know that the reviewers, who often have links to companies and universities, will not be enriched by the advice they give.

"The agency's leaders argue that no worthwhile scientist would stand for such disclosure. But it's entirely reasonable — and increasingly common — to ask stem cell scientists to disclose their financial and research relationships. If a scientist wants to help decide how California spends $3 billion on stem cell research, he or she should be willing to take steps to assure the public that its money is being well spent."
The editorial generally lauded the agency, particularly the ethics and intellectual property rules approved earlier this month. But it added,
"It has taken more pressure from public interest groups than it should have to set the institute on the right path. That's probably because the governing board has no members from such groups, something the Legislature should correct once the three-year moratorium on amending Proposition 71 is over. Still, the board showed that it has learned how to listen and respond, one of its most promising steps so far."
On Sunday, the agency was likened to a Frankstein monster in an op-ed piece in the San Francisco Chronicle. Dana Welch, executive director of the Berkeley Center for Law, Business and the Economy, posed a series of questions about the agency, ranging from the direction of CIRM's priorities to IP rights.
"Prop 71 left these questions and more wide open. Answer any one wrong, or leave them to chance, and we risk a South-Korean-like train wreck, potentially setting back by years the development of potential cures. Answer these questions right, and California becomes a model for other states and countries conducting stem cell research," she wrote.
The questions raised by Welch are identical to the ones being discussed at a conference early in March at Boalt Hall in Berkeley. Her group is one of the sponsors.

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