Tuesday, August 22, 2006

The Scientist Magazine: CIRM, Disclosure and Conflicts

The topic of conflicts of interests and stem cell research is surfacing again in the scientific media. The latest article can be found in The Scientist magazine.

Writer Andrew Holtz reported on the hooha out here in California – although hooha is probably too strong a word, given that the issue is nearly totally ignored by the mainstream media.

Holtz quoted Zach Hall, president of CIRM, as saying its disclosure rules for grant reviewers "go beyond the rules of other state agencies in California and in fact they go beyond the national standards." While we don't like to quibble with the good doctor, we are not sure he is really on target concerning California disclosure rules. Putting the public universities aside, we suspect that nearly all California agencies require public disclosure of financial interests as opposed to "secret" disclosure, which is what CIRM does with its reviewers. We base on that on several decades of experience watching California public agencies, but we could be wrong.

In the case of CIRM, it requires grant reviewers to disclose basically only to the agency itself.

The article quoted John M. Simpson of the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights as calling for more disclosure because of the multimillion dollar impact of actions by the reviewers.

Holtz also interviewed some of the reviewers concerning their sentiments on public disclosure of their financial information.
"One reviewer, Rainer Storb, from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, Washington, told The Scientist he isn't bothered by the idea of public disclosure of his financial statements. 'The burden is that you have to fill out these forms all the time. That's a bit of a nuisance. But I'm perfectly fine with things being made public,' Storb said.

"Other members of the Grants Review Working Group were either unavailable or said they didn't know enough about the debate to comment. Arlene Chiu,director of scientific activities at CIRM, said many reviewers she had spoken with oppose public disclosure.

"The Director of the Oregon Stem Cell Center, Markus Grompe, who said he was contacted about becoming a reviewer, said his financial ties are already public. 'If they bar you from being involved with biotech to be a reviewer, then that will scare off a majority actually; but if it's just about disclosing it, we disclose all the time,' Grompe said.

"Lisa A. Bero, from the Institute for Health Policy Studies at University of California San Francisco, who has studied conflict of interest issues in medical research, said people have difficulty judging their conflicts of interest. She said the specific CIRM disclosure rules improve upon policies that ask general questions about 'relevant' financial ties, but public
disclosure would still help detect cases where disclosure is less than complete."
For more on this subject, see "immune feelings" and "second tier."

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