Tuesday, September 25, 2007

More Openness Emerging at CIRM?

The California stem cell agency has long concealed the identities of applicants for millions of dollars in grants even when the applicants are such public entities as the University of California.

But there are signs of changing sentiment on CIRM's Oversight Committee. At the board's August meeting, some members indicated that they favored disclosing the names of institutional applicants for $222 million in lab grants and at least some portion of their applications.

For example, Oversight Committee member Francisco Prieto, a Sacramento physician, asked his fellow committee members,

"Why could we not release the names of the applying institutions and the outlines of the proposals without actually opening up the actual review? I understand that in the review of the RFAs and within the meetings that there are comments made about strengths and weaknesses of individual investigators and teams and things that could affect people's careers, but the institutions and the outlines don't have any personal interest. "
In response, Chairman Robert Klein said the matter would be brought up at next week's Oversight Committee meeting in San Diego. He said,
"I personally think that we have an opportunity here to have some more disclosure, that while protecting confidential information, proprietary information, personnel information of people that are being hired, etc."
Later David Kessler, an Oversight Committee member and dean of the UC San Francisco School of Medicine, indicated he was sympathetic to providing the names and some information concerning the institutions' applications.

Kessler made his comments after John M. Simpson, stem cell project director of the watch dog group, the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumers Rights, noted that lab grant process has two steps. The first is a closed- door scientific review of applications from institutions, whose names are also secret. The second is public review of the actual construction proposal with the names disclosed.

Simpson said the board was
"...setting up a procedure by which, as I see it right now, you cannot risk the embarrassment of a university because it can't do science, but you can embarrass them because they don't know how to build a building. That just doesn't make sense. It doesn't serve the scientists, nor the architects, especially the public at large."
Last month, the California Stem Cell Report called on CIRM directors to make more information public concerning the identity and proposals of applicants for the lab grants.

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