Wednesday, June 23, 2010

'Troubling' Trend: Is CIRM Playing Field Level for Business?

A longtime observer of California stem cell matters today said he is troubled by a trend at CIRM that appears to give short shrift to research at biotech businesses in the Golden State.

John M. Simpson has been watching the California stem cell agency since late 2005, along with participating in its affairs, most notably development of its IP policies.

Simpson, stem cell project director for Consumer Watchdog of Santa Monica, Ca., prepared this statement to be read at today's CIRM board meeting in San Diego. Simpson is on the East Coast on other business and may not be able to reach the Washington, D.C., teleconference location to deliver his remarks personally. Here is the full text.
“I apologize that that I was unable to attend today's ICOC meeting. I
appreciate this statement being read into the record on my behalf.

“When Consumer Watchdog began its Stem Cell Project almost five years ago, I
naïvely expressed concerns that the program would be hijacked by the biotech
industry. That has -- at least so far -- not happened; rather, it has been
dominated by academic research institutions, whose representatives hold the
largest number of seats on the board.

“I believe the trend is troubling enough to ask whether the playing field is
level for all applicants. I believe there are grounds for concern.

“Here are some suggestions to improve the situation:

“-- A task force should be convened to consider why companies have fared so
poorly and what should be done. All sessions must be public.

“-- A workshop should be scheduled with interested companies to discuss ways
to improve their applications. It must be opened to the public.

“-- An effort should be made to recruit scientific reviewers with substantial
experience in research programs conducted by businesses.

“-- CIRM meetings that currently include only grantees should be expanded to
include all legitimately interested parties. Currently you have an annual
conference for all grantees. This must be opened to include all grant and
loan applicants, even if they were unsuccessful. If there is a concern
about expenses, unsuccessful applicants could be charged a modest fee. What
better venue to learn what makes a successful application than a conference
that includes CIRM's awardees? It would also create opportunities for
developing collaborations. Currently CIRM continues to suffer from the image
that it is a closed club. Opening conferences to all applicants -- and even
other interested parties -- would help correct that.

“Thank you for your consideration.

“John M. Simpson”

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