Wednesday, April 12, 2006

The $500,000 Plan to Spend $3 Billion

CIRM President Zach Hall zeroed in on the critical point. How will the California stem cell agency be judged 10 years from now?
“What people will really care about is whether we spent our money well. Did it yield something to improve the quality of life, not just for Californians, but for everyone?”
In a word, results.

Hall's comment came at a meeting of the Oversight Committee of the stem cell agency last week. Not that he is ignoring the other important stuff, such as the best medical and ethical standards in the world, but that will come along as well if the agency is sharply focused, disciplined and diligent.

Development of the plan is expected to take something like six months and cost $500,000. Reporter Terri Somers of the San Diego Union-Tribune wrote a piece that set the matter in perspective.

She said,
"While much about the strategic plan remains amorphous, this much is certain: It won't be a laundry list of diseases to be cured. It will be a plan that allows the best and latest scientific discoveries to influence where the taxpayer money is invested, Hall said.
"And it will be fluid, because in the 10 years California intends to provide funding, scientists will likely make discoveries that catapult some research ahead of others, Hall said."
Based on Somers' story and Hall's proposal, it appears that the public will have ample opportunity to make its voice heard, if it so desires. The planning process and documents are also expected to be available on CIRM's Web site.

In what may be the only story on the meeting, Somers discussed the tension between some of the factions, if you can call them that, on the board, such the patient advocates who have pushed for rapid development of therapies. One of those is Jeff Sheehy, a patient advocate. Somers quoted Sheehy as saying,
“We tend to think of disease advocates as being tied to a specific disease when, really, it is just a mode of operating and thinking.
“My father has Alzheimer's, my mother was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, and I have HIV and my greatest risk factor right now is cardiovascular. If I had to chart today what I want to cure first, this morning, it would be ovarian cancer. My point is that everyone in California is impacted by chronic life-threatening disease. And I don't so much want to cure my disease as I want to cure something.”
The next steps on the strategic plan? CIRM staff will begin interviews with experts and "stakeholders" in the next few days, along with ICOC members as appropriate. A public meeting is expected sometime in May in San Francisco.

Here is a link to the CIRM press release on last week's meeting.

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