Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Major Conflicts of Interest, Picayune Details

Sometimes tiny details tell us more about the nature of things than a panoramic perspective.

Such was the case last month at a meeting of the CIRM Oversight Committee when it considered what appeared to be a routine, previously discussed issue. We wrote about it then, noting that it illustrates the powerful nature of the built-in conflicts-of-interest involving CIRM.

The matter has come up again in the form of a comment on the proposed regulation offered by the Oversight Committee. The following was written by John M. Simpson, stem cell project director for the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights. The letter is addressed to CIRM as part of the official state process for adopting regulations. We quote it verbatim.

"I am writing to object to the removal at the October Independent Citizens' Oversight Committee meeting of the last sentence of SECTION 100309, Press Release Requirements of the Nonprofit Intellectual Property Policy. The sentence read: 'In the event CIRM wishes to participate in a joint press release, the grantee will coordinate with the CIRM Communications officer.'

"According to the Initial Statement of Reasons, 'This regulation is necessary so the CIRM is apprised of current significant developments regarding CIRM-funded research and ensure proper attribution to the CIRM and the State of California for the CIRM-funded activity.'

"Without the sentence, there is no way of ensuring that CIRM and the State of California receive proper attribution for CIRM-funded research in news releases.

"Section 100309 was approved twice by the ICOC. The regulation received no comments from the public during a thorough review of the regulations conducted by the IP Task Force and CIRM staff during the summer. During that process public comment was appropriately considered on other aspects of the policy and the IP regulations were modified taking that comment into account as mandated by the Office of Administrative Law procedures.

"The role of the ICOC at the October meeting should have been simply to make sure that those modifications were appropriate and took public comment into account. It was not appropriate to raise new issues that had been settled. Removing a sentence that had been approved twice by the board was at best arbitrary and capricious.

"More troublesome was the motivation for the removal. The action came on a motion from David Baltimore. Unfortunately the transcript of the meeting was not expected to be available before the end of the period for public comment.

"However, my notes show that Baltimore expressed concern that the requirement to co-ordinate with CIRM's Communications Officer would place a burden on universities. Rather than acting in the interests of all Californians, he was clearly acting in what he perceived to be the interest of the institution he represents. This sort of behavior does not bode well if one expects ICOC members to live up to the committee's name, 'independent' and truly act in the interests of all Californians rather than the institutions they represent."

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