Wednesday, May 19, 2010

IOM Study of California Stem Cell Agency Proposed

A directors subcommittee of the California stem cell agency next week will consider commissioning a blue-ribbon, outside study of its work, ranging from its organizational structure to its scientific performance.

The study would be conducted by the prestigious Institute of Medicine and be paid for by CIRM. The proposal comes as legislation is being considered in Sacramento that would require peformance audits of CIRM. The agency has also scheduled a three-day review in October of its strategic plan by a panel of outside experts.

The new Science Subcommittee of CIRM directors will take up the IOM proposal at its meeting on Tuesday. The agenda contains no detailed justification for the proposal. It simply says,
“Consideration of commissioning IOM study regarding CIRM, including organizational structure, financial structure, conflicts policies, operations, scientific performance, and best practices, to enhance operations and scientific performance and identify critical scientific opportunities in the near term.”
Jeff Sheehy, chairman of the subcommittee, supports the proposal. In an email, he said,
“If you look at what the IOM does (and I have seen a couple of IOM reports--they were spectacular in their rigor and thoroughness, along with being absolutely objective), and what we should be providing in the way of a progress report to the people of California, it makes a lot of sense to have the gold standard IOM look at us.”
The institute is extremely well-regarded in science circles and regularly studies scientific issues. More than 600 reports are listed on its Web site, mostly dealing with scientific as opposed to public policy matters, although there is considerable overlap on those concerns when public financing is involved.

One longtime observer of the California stem cell scene, who must remain anonymous, said,
“What is probably true is that the IOM would not be so concerned about closed reviews and public disclosure of financial information from reviewers, but will focus on whether the money has been given out in a fair way and what has resulted from it.”
The IOM did produce a report in 2009 on conflicts of interest in medical research and educational institutions. In the case of CIRM, Prop. 71 built into the agency a wide range of conflicts of interest. The IOM study did not examine CIRM or the NIH, but it said,
“(T)here is growing concern among lawmakers, government agencies, and the public that extensive con­flicts of interest in medicine require stronger measures. Responsible and reasonable conflict of interest policies and procedures will reduce the risk of bias and the loss of trust while avoiding undue burdens or harms and without damaging constructive collaborations with industry.”
An IOM study would not be the first involving CIRM. It asked the group to put together a one-day workshop in 2006 on the risks of human egg donation. CIRM approved a $124,185 contract with the IOM. The report from the workshop is now being sold on the Internet by the IOM for $26.78.

Another IOM study would be expensive and could take possibly as much as a year to complete, one source told us. The performance audits proposed in the state legislation are estimated to run about $400,000 each.

The IOM proposal is not being offered as alternative to the audits and was being discussed prior to the legislation, we understand. However, the possibility of such an evaluation could become part of the ongoing negotiations on SB1064 by state Sen. Elaine Kontominas, D-San Jose. A special telephonic meeting of the full CIRM board is also scheduled for next Tuesday if an agreement is reached on the measure, which includes removal of the 50-person cap on CIRM staff. CIRM is eager to see that limit revoked.

Earlier CIRM scheduled and then cancelled a meeting on the Alquist legislation. The one next week could also be cancelled if negotiations are not successful.

Members of the public can sit in on both the full board meeting and the Science Subcommittee session at a variety of locations around the state. Specific addresses can be found on the agendas.

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