Monday, November 27, 2006

Who Gets the Dough and Who Shares: CIRM Tackles IP, Grants and Even Office Space

The California stem cell agency will be more than busy during the next two weeks, wrestling with its plan on how to give away $3 billion as well as proposals to share the boodle that results from the taxpayer-funded research, among other things.

CIRM's staff has done a good job of posting the agendas well in advance of the meetings, which begin this week. But still missing on most items up for consideration is the background information that really fleshes out what is being considered.

The main event comes Dec. 7 when the Oversight Committee meets at the University of California at Irvine. To be voted on are the strategic spending plan, intellectual property proposals for grants to both businesses and non-profit enterprises and the newly revised CIRM budget prepared in the wake of the recent infusion of $181 million in private and state loans. Of all the sessions scheduled during the next couple of weeks, this meeting is the one most likely to be covered by the media.

The only document now available for public viewing on the Oversight Committee agenda is the IP proposal for businesses.

Beginning tomorrow, the grants review group will hold a three-day meeting to determine who receives the first research grants from the agency. The Oversight Committee must approve the recommendations of the group before the checks go in the mail. But the reality is that the 29-member committee is unlikely to make any major changes in the recommendations of the review group.

Virtually all of the important deliberations of the group will occur in private, with none of the messy public hassles that attend the spending of taxpayers' money by cities and counties in California or, for that matter, the state. Names of the applicants are secret. The financial interests of most of the reviewers additionally are being withheld from the public. CIRM has promised to police the whole process so that no shenanigans occur, something of a burden for the tiny staff of about 20 at the agency.

One of the first items on the public portion of the grants review group session is "updated procedures for the evaluation and recommendation of grant applications." Just what those proposed procedures are is unknown. No information has been made available by CIRM. But by 10:30 a.m., the group will begin its three days of closed-door meetings presumably using those yet-to-be-revealed procedures. Of course, some of the rules for evaluating grant applications can be found in state law, which cannot be changed by the review group. Other interim procedures can be found here.

The grant group is scheduled to work grueling 12-hour days as it thrashes over the more than 200 grant applications. It is meeting at the Miyako Hotel in San Francisco, which is rated as a three-star (out of five) facility and which travelers also scored as 5.9 out of 10 on TravelPost.com.

Coming up next Monday are discussions of the CIRM's internal space and travel policies, issues that shed some light earlier this year on the bifurcated and sometimes dueling leadership at the agency. (See "'Dualing' Execs.") Also up for consideration are policies for contracting with outside consultants. The agency relies on private contracts for a number of important services because of its small staff. Again, specifics are missing on the issues. The Governance Subcommittee is meeting in San Francisco, but remote access is available in many areas in California.

Finally on Friday, the Facilities Working Group, which is preparing for handing out nearly $300 million in grants for labs, will do a little work in San Francisco on the definition of capital equipment and review the progress on the first round of its grants, which are scheduled to go out in the first six months of next year. Sphere: Related Content

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