Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Biotech Courtier, the People's Will and 'Money Talks'

Gov. Schwarzenegger's veto of this year's CIRM legislation was deeply buried by most news outlets, if they carried anything at all. But his action triggered a fiery op-ed piece by J. Wesley Smith in the San Francisco Chronicle.

Writing on Oct. 2
, Smith, senior fellow in human rights and bioethics at the Discovery Institute, asked,
"What is it about embryonic stem cell research that turns politicians into courtiers? "
He said government leaders are more than ready to denounce the "get-rich, money-talks ethos" of Big Pharma, but "trip over each other to grant (biotech) policy agendas carte blanche."

Smith was talking about SB1565, legislation by state Sen. Sheila Kuehl, D-Santa Monica, which was aimed at providing affordable access to CIRM-financed therapies. The measure was opposed by the biotech industry and CIRM.

Smith said the governor claimed "incongruously that it 'does nothing to advance the will of over 7 million voters,' when precisely the opposite - assuring access for the poor to CIRM-facilitated treatments - was clearly part of the package voters thought they bought when passing Proposition 71."

Smith continued,
"Given the governor's constant harping about the crucial importance of bipartisanship, the veto is ironic. Talk about a bipartisan measure! SB1565 passed the Senate unanimously and by an overwhelming 64-7 in the Assembly. Other than naming freeways after dead luminaries, it is rare to find such agreement in the ideologically divided California Legislature.

"In backing the CIRM's fiscal profligacy and giving the back of his hand to the poor and the ill through his veto, Schwarzenegger made a joke of his reputation as a fiscal conservative and bipartisan consensus builder. How sad that the once mighty Arnold, who came to Sacramento vowing to smash boxes, has instead assumed the role of a mere industry retainer."
Jerry Steele, an advocate of adult stem cell therapy writing on the TheraVitae blog, also was critical of the veto. He said,
"The CIRM has been mired in many controversies on where the money has been distributed and is deathly quiet on the issue of when it is going to produce any cure."
Steele asked if California has received a return on its investment,
"Well, even the staunchest supporter of the CIRM would be hard pressed to come up with any successful results- I tried Google and the most I could come up with was a few semi-famous scientists have migrated to California to live off the taxpayer."
Geron, a Menlo Park, Ca., stem cell company, had a different view, although it was very brief. In what amounted to a one sentence news release, the firm said it supported the veto because the legislation ran "counter" to Prop. 71.

Don Reed, patient advocate and a vice president of the private stem cell lobbying group belonging to CIRM Chairman Robert Klein, gave a cyberspace sigh of relief on his blog. But he noted that the Little Hoover Commission, a bipartisan good-government state agency, will be looking into CIRM.

Reed vowed,
"If the Little Hoover Commission develops a new law or initiative against us, I will let you know about it early, so we can protect California’s great gift to the world."
Unsaid was the implication that any proposed change in CIRM's operations would be an attack. Sphere: Related Content

1 comment:

  1. For those who may have missed it:


    Schwarzenegger vetoes stem cell bill
    San Francisco Business Times - Sept. 29
    By Ron Leuty

    Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed SB 1565, aimed at making stem cell therapies and diagnostics funded by California’s multibillion-dollar stem cell research agency affordable and accessible.

    The bill also would have made it easier for the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine to fund research beyond politically charged embryonic stem cells.

    In vetoing the bill Saturday, Schwarzenegger said SB 1565 would have undermined “the express intent of Proposition 71,” which California voters approved in 2004, setting up a $3 billion agency with state bonds.

    Schwarzenegger said the bill would have eliminated the priority for funding human embryonic stem cell research and would have placed restrictions on CIRM’s oversight committee to adopt intellectual property policies that balance patient need and medical research.

    “More than 7 million voters were very clear when they passed Proposition 71 in 2004,” Schwarzenegger said. “They wanted to fund embryonic stem cell research that the federal government wouldn’t. They also wanted to make sure that California receives a return for its historic investment in medical research. Both of these important goals are already being accomplished.

    “This bill does nothing to advance the will of over 7 million voters. For this reason, I am unable to sign this bill.”

    The effort to create CIRM was launched after President Bush’s August 2001 restrictions on federally funded embryonic stem cell studies because the process requires the destruction of human embryos.

    SB 1565 was sponsored by Sen. Sheila Kuehl, a Santa Monica Democrat, and George Runner, a Republican from Antelope Valley. It had breezed through the Assembly and the Senate since its introduction Feb. 22.

    Kuehl has long pressed CIRM for increased accountability and to codify — beyond CIRM’s policy — that stem cell therapies and diagnostics funded by the agency be affordable and accessible to uninsured Californians.

    Runner has been an avowed opponent of embryonic stem cell research. His amendment would have allowed CIRM’s scientific and medical research funding working group — which includes 15 scientists who review, score and rank grant and loan applications — to allow a simple majority vote to push forward non-embryonic stem cell research.

    That research already can receive federal funding. But adult stem cell research has picked up support over the past year, after Shinya Yamanaka, now a part-time researcher at the J. David Gladstone Institutes in San Francisco, and others induced some adult skin cells to change into embryonic-like stem cells.

    Runner’s amendment also may have made it easier for researchers at Stanford University, the University of California, San Francisco, the Gladstone Institutes and the Children’s Hospital Oakland Research Institute to land more funding for their efforts to manipulate adult stem cells into embryonic-like stem cells or work with umbilical cord blood cells.

    One of SB 1565’s aims already is coming to pass, though. The Little Hoover Commission, an independent, bipartisan state oversight commission, said Sept. 25 that it will study CIRM.