Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Ortiz Drops Critical Elements from CIRM Oversight Bill

Major changes will be made in legislation to tighten oversight of the California stem cell agency, including the elimination of provisions that could have required royalties as high as 50 percent on inventions financed with state funds.

The moves may well be an initial step in a compromise on the sweeping legislation by California State Sen. Deborah Ortiz, D-Sacramento, who is the leading legislative voice on stem cell issues. Her decision to strip significant provisions from SB401 makes it clear that CIRM needs to address the other issues in the legislation. Ortiz has made it known for some time that she is not wedded to a ballot measure or legislation to ensure accountability and openness.

Her office indicated late Wednesday that the measure will be amended before it comes up again in the Assembly Appropriations Committee, which is its last stop before it goes to the Assembly floor. The committee Wednesday delayed action on the bill until late next week.

According to Hallye Jordan, director of communications for Ortiz, the senator told the committee that she intends to address critics' concerns that "the bill’s intellectual property provisions are inflexible and will discourage industry participation in stem cell research and that she is carrying the bill for political purposes."

Here is most of Jordan's statement on Ortiz' appearance Wednesday:
"She told committee members that she intends to amend the bill's IP provisions so that they mirror the regulations that the Independent Citizen’s Oversight Committee and the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (ICOC/CIRM) have already adopted and which are currently under review by the Office of Administrative Law, per the Administrative Procedure Act. In doing so, she noted she is giving up the ability to get a higher share of royalties and better prices that might have been achieved under the original provision of SB401.

"She also said she will amend the bill to make it clear that it will not go on the ballot until after the November 2006 election.

"These amendments are expected to go a long way in addressing critics’ concerns, leaving, perhaps, only the argument that opponents don’t want to have stem cell research back on the ballot. Senator Ortiz and other legislators believe voters have a right to determine whether SB401 will provide public accountability and the appropriate protection of the state’s $3 billion-$7 billion taxpayer-funded investment into stem cell research.

"SB401 is important to ensure that the CIRM, ICOC and working group members are subject to public accountability, and hold meetings in public, make their records public and disclose of their financial interests as required of all public officials.

"SB401 includes exceptions so that the working group members may conduct scientific peer review and protect proprietary or scientific prepublication information when appropriate. The Senator and other SB 401supporters believe the ICOC/CIRM proposed regulations allowing the ICOC president to waive the conflict of interest provisions in 'exceptional' circumstances, do not provide clear, defined criteria as to what constitutes 'exceptional' circumstances. They also are concerned with ICOC/CIRM provisions that exempt from open meeting discussions and public record disclosures 'critical mission' matters, which also are vague and overly broad.

"Senator Ortiz also pointed out that there is no guarantee that the ICOC/CIRM regulations that have been submitted to the Office of Administrative Law will remain intact after the public comment period.

"SB401 is supported by Californians Aware and California Common Cause," Jordan concluded.
The Appropriations Committee staff analysis, prepared by Scott Bain, said the bill's requirement that the Department of Justice review CIRM intellectual property agreements would likely cost around $150,000 annually. The department currently does not have IP expertise. Cost of the state auditing function in the bill was estimated at least than $20,000. Cost of placing the measure on the ballot would be $330,000. Legislation that has a price tag of $150,000 or more is being held for consideration next week as lawmakers wrestle with state budget matters.

Listed in the staff analysis as opposing the bill were CIRM, the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation and the Coalition for Advancement for Medical Research. Both groups contend the bill "will have the effect of unnecessarily impeding the research program," according to the analysis.

Under the topic of "concerns," the analysis said,
"The California Healthcare Institute (CHI) expresses concern that this bill applies licensing and other conditions to CIRM grants and loans that are in the best interest of the state, but these provisions may discourage industry participation. The California Institute of Technology, Stanford University, the University of California and the University of Southern California write that they believe CIRM's intellectual property policy should be given a chance to work and be tested before either codifying in statute or making significant changes."
On Tuesday, CIRM's legislative subcommittee met for "consideration" of SB401 and a number of other stem cell-related bills. We have queried CIRM about what action was taken at the meeting, but are still awaiting a definitive response. Sphere: Related Content

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