Tuesday, May 02, 2006

California Newspapers Opine on CIRM and Trial Decision

Three major California newspapers have weighed in with editorials in the wake of the court decision upholding the legality of the California stem cell agency. The Los Angeles Times threw more support to CIRM while The Sacramento Bee remained more critical. Also writing was the San Jose Mercury News.

The Times called on the legislature to reject a measure to tighten controls over the California stem cell agency, although the Times says CIRM needs to do more on its conflict-of-interest regulations.

Here are some excerpts:
"It may have taken more protest and rancor than it should have to get the governing committee to make its dealings transparent, ensure that any future treatments are accessible to the state's poor and provide the public with a fair share of profits made from medical discoveries. But in recent months, the agency has addressed these concerns. It also has adopted top-notch standards for research ethics and the protection of potential egg donors.

"That's why another effort to rein in the stem cell agency's work, in the Legislature, should be rejected as well. Senate Bill 401 would put on the ballot a measure to set up various rigid and picayune regulations on the institute. The agency's board already has adopted key elements of these proposed regulations. But by carving the rules into stone now, the measure would take away any flexibility the board might need as this fledgling research unfolds.

"The bill's author, state Sen. Deborah Ortiz (D-Sacramento) has been one of those forces pushing the agency in the right direction, but her measure is at best premature. The stem cell committee could still stand to make some improvements, of course; for instance, it resists making financial conflict-of-interest statements public for the scientists who will review grant applications. But the agency is on the right track. It should be given the chance to work out its rules and begin its important research before the Legislature starts micromanaging every aspect of its work."
The Bee, which has had the most active voice among California newspapers on CIRM, said:
"While we could quibble with a few of Sabraw's conclusions, they will get a full review from a state appeals court if plaintiffs take their concerns to the next level. Regardless, it is far from certain that the stem cell institute, despite the paranoid nature of Proposition 71, is incapable of operating like a normal state agency. Partly because of public pressure, the institute has opened up the deliberations of some of its advisory groups and established intellectual property policies that try to satisfy competing needs.

"Has it settled all outstanding issues? Not by a long shot. For reasons unclear, the institute continues to shield its advisers - prestigious scientists from out-of-state universities who will be making recommendations on multimillion-dollar grants - from disclosing their outside income. Some of that income comes from industries that hope to profit from stem cell research.

"Imagine the outcry if Caltrans set up an advisory group to advise it on building bridges, yet the public was unable to find out if bridge contractors were serving on the panel.

'Stem cell research could be a bridge to the future, and because of this potential, the institute's oversight board should require its advisers to publicly disclose their outside income. Anything less will leave lingering doubts about this freshly certified public agency."
The San Jose Mercury News said:
"The state has already awarded $14 million in grants with money raised from private investors. That may seem like peanuts next to the $300 million that the state will issue annually over the next 10 years. But it will permit California to hire more than 150 scientists to conduct stem cell research. That amount already equals 50 percent of the grants for stem cell research nationwide by the National Institutes of Health.

"Californians must learn to be patient with the progress of stem cell research. The majority of medical breakthroughs have occurred incrementally. The accumulated work of many hands over many years creates an environment in which someone can make an historic advancement."
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