Monday, December 22, 2008

Stem Cell Science Group Seeks $400,000 From CIRM

Consumer Watchdog calls it "unbelievable" and "a flagrant squandering of public money." The group says it serves no purpose other "than to inflate the already healthy egos of CIRM's globe-trotting executives "

The language comes from John M. Simpson, stem cell project director for the Santa Monica, Ca., group. Writing on the group's blog, he refers to a pitch by the prestigious International Society for Stem Cell Research for $400,000 from CIRM to pay for 28 percent of the cost of the society's 2010 convention in San Francisco.

Tomorrow afternoon, the grant request will be considered by the CIRM board of directors at a special teleconference meeting. Multiple locations are available throughout the state and even outside of the state where the public can comment.

The request first came before the board earlier this month with no written explanation or detailed justification of benefits to the state of California. Directors told CIRM staff to provide more details if funding was to be seriously considered.

CIRM has close ties to ISSCR. CIRM President Alan Trounson is on the board of directors of the society. CIRM Chairman Robert Klein was a member of an advisory committee to ISCCR in 2007, according to The Niche, Nature magazine's stem cell blog. Don Gibbons, CIRM's chief communications officer, is a member of the group's public education committee.

The request for the grant is signed by Irv Weissman of Stanford, whose medical school dean is on the CIRM board of directors. Weissman will be president of the group in 2009. Stanford has received $95 million in grants from CIRM. Weissman has received $2.6 million.

It is not uncommon for professional organizations to seek some sort of financial assistance from enterprises whose executives serve on the professional group's board of directors.

However, the timing on this pitch is unfortunate, to say the least, given the $40 billion California budget shortfall. Moreover, funding of the convention seems a tad lavish. For example, it includes $235,000 for marketing expenses, a figure that seems more appropriate for MacWorld than a gathering of stem cell researchers.

Even in brighter times, a $400,000 donation from the state would be dubious. Today it cannot be justified unless CIRM wants to chalk up some serious minus points with the folks in the state Capitol and with the public at large.

The public can participate in the meeting from locations in San Francisco (3), Berkeley, Elk Grove, Healdsburg, Los Angeles (3), Koloa, Hi., Beverly Hills, Irvine (2), La Jolla (2), Stanford, Cornelius, NC, Sacramento, Philadelphia and Chicago. The out-of-state locations are presumably where some CIRM directors will be tomorrow afternoon but they are still legally public as far as CIRM meetings go. The specific addresses can be found on the meeting agenda.

(Editor's note: An earlier version of this item incorrectly stated that the ISSCR grant request totalled $420,000. The erroneous information came from CIRM. The additional $20,000 appeared in the CIRM grant application from the ISSCR which we have been told automatically adds 5 percent "indirect costs" to the amount requested. However, the 5 percent does not apply in this case. )

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