Wednesday, August 02, 2006

San Jose Merc: Full Disclosure Needed from CIRM

The stakes are large and the temptations are great. The evidence also shows that some scientists and physicians cannot resist – perhaps only a tiny handful, but nonetheless a significant number.

What we are talking about is the linkage between corporate interests and medical research. Reporter Paul Jacobs of the San Jose Mercury News is only one of the latest to report the bountiful ties binding the two in his recent look at Stanford University.

The newspaper editorialized on the subject and the California stem cell agency on Monday before today's meeting of its Oversight Committee.

Here is an excerpt:

"California's great stem-cell experiment faces a moment of truth this week.

"Wednesday, in San Francisco, the state's stem-cell institute must make a pivotal decision on whether members of its working groups should be required to publicly disclose any conflicts of interest before they review grant applications and make recommendations to the agency's governing board for final approval.

"The agency should make an investment in public oversight and public confidence and overturn its staff's recommendation opposing full public disclosure.

"The arguments opposing full disclosure have merit. There is concern about whether top-level scientists will be willing to participate in the process if they have to make complete financial disclosures of any potential conflicts. The working groups are strictly voluntary and will require a substantial time investment by out-of-state scientists who must be experts in their field. The disclosure provision could discourage some from participating. So the agency wants to settle for internal disclosure of potential conflicts that could then be reviewed, but not publicly disclosed, by the Legislature or an independent auditor.

"But as Mercury News Staff Writer Paul Jacobs pointed out in a recent series, the relationship between medical companies and premier research universities is growing increasingly cozy, and many professors now have second jobs working for medical firms.

"Public confidence in California's $3 billion investment outweighs the importance of attracting the highest level of scientists to review applications. The scrutiny over who receives the stem-cell research grants is certain to be intense over the course of the next decade. The last thing the state agency needs is a lawsuit or scandal over how it is spending taxpayer dollars. Anything less than full disclosure is bound to invite skepticism about the agency's integrity."

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