Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Stem Cell Affordability Bill Marches Towards Schwarzenegger

Legislation aimed at ensuring affordable access to any therapies developed as the result of California's $3 billion stem cell research program today easily cleared its final committee hurdle and appears likely to wind up on the desk of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

The measure (SB 1565) by Sens. Sheila Kuehl, D-Santa Monica, and George Runner, R-Antelope Valley, was sent to the Assembly floor by the Assembly Appropriations Committee. Presuming it wins Assembly approval, it will go back to the Senate for concurrence in Assembly amendments. No lawmaker has voted against the bill, nor did any today although the final official vote is not yet available.

The bill has faced sometimes vitriolic opposition, particularly from the private lobbying group of the chairman of the state's stem cell research effort, Robert Klein. Americans for Cures lambasted Kuehl as "ignorant" and "craven" in a posting on the Daily Kos, a political blog with about 1 million page views a day.

Americans for Cures, which operates out of the same address as Klein's real estate investment banking firm, later apologized and asked that the offending item be removed. Klein said he did not know about the item. He is reportedly resigning as president of Americans for Cures, but it is not clear whether he will sever all ties or whether the organization will move from his offices.

Klein's connection to the lobbying group, which is an offshoot of the Prop. 71 campaign organization, has long triggered criticism because of concerns about conflicting interests.

One commentator, who must remain anonymous, told the California Stem Cell Report today:
"I would say it's an inherent conflict to be an officer of any kind of 'Cures,' while being on the ICOC (the board of directors of the stem cell agency). It would be like a physician who is a high level officer in the California Medical Association being on the (state) Medical Board. One would never know whether their official actions represented their own views or the views of the CMA."
Americans for Cures has not yet confirmed that Klein is resigning. (Shortly after this item was posted, we saw a report on the Niche stem cell blog of Nature magazine saying that Americans said Klein has resigned but will remain on the lobbying group's board, which probably means that it will continue to be housed at Klein's offices.)

The next lobbying target for CIRM and the stem cell activists is the governor, who can veto the legislation and who has been more than receptive towards the stem cell agency's efforts.

Here is a link to the latest legislative staff analysis of the bill.

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