Friday, January 11, 2008

FTCR: Rejected Lab Grant Applicants Should Appeal in Public

A CIRM watchdog organization today urged five institutions "rejected" for multimillion dollar state lab construction grants to appear publicly next week and make their case for funding from the California stem cell agency.

John M. Simpson
, stem cell project director of the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumers Rights, said the review process for the $263 million lab grant program "has been flawed and smacks of favoritism that can only be cured by transparency." He said,

"CIRM management decided to reveal (last month) the 12 institutions that will be recommended for an invitation to seek funding so that they could use the information in year-end fundraising efforts. How is that fair to the five who were not anointed in secret by the closed scientific brotherhood?"

The California stem cell agency has declined to say whether any other lab grant applicants – besides Childrens Hospital Oakland Research Institute – are attempting to overturn negative decisions on their grant applications.

Ellen Rose, a spokeswoman for the agency, said,
"Appeals are allowable only if there is demonstrable evidence of a financial or scientific conflict of interest. Differences of scientific opinion among PIs and reviewers are not grounds for appeal. In the past, applicants who have raised questions about their grant applications or sought clarification, which is common in any granting exercise, have been informed of this policy. Thus far we have had no formal appeals to our grant-making process."
Simpson said CIRM's statement was "Orwellian double-speak." He said,
"I strongly urge representatives of all five rejected institutions to show up at next week's ICOC meeting and make their case in public directly to the board. It is, they claim, the decision making authority. What's happened so far were merely "recommendations.'"
By law, the Oversight Committee is the final authority on grant approval. It can accept or reject – for virtually any reason -- decisions by the working groups. That is one reason CIRM says it is not necessary for grant reviewers to publicly disclose their financial interests.

In response to queries from the California Stem Cell Report last month, two other institutions disclosed that their applications have been rejected. They are the University of California at Riverside and Cedars-Sinai in Los Angeles. However, they have not responded to queries on Thursday about whether they are asking Oversight Committee to reconsider the working group action.

The lab grant program is the first in which the names of applicants have been disclosed by CIRM, which previously said the names of all applicants were confidential even when the applicants themselves disclosed their own identity. The decision to assist the applicants with fundraising is important because CIRM will look more favorably during the two-step approval process on applicants with large matching funds.

The Oversight Committee is scheduled to take up the grants next Wednesday during the scientific portion of the approval process. Only those approved next week will move on to the next step.

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