Monday, July 19, 2010

CIRM Finally Discloses Grant Appeal Proposals

The California stem cell agency early today belatedly posted a two-page memo on proposed changes in how it will deal with appeals by scientists whose grant applications have been rejected by reviewers.

The information comes only one business day before a meeting of the CIRM directors' Science Subcommittee to consider alterations in the appeals process. The changes deal with an issue that has been publicly troubling the CIRM board for 2 1/2 years. Many CIRM directors are unhappy with a situation that finds researchers publicly appearing before the board to press their cases. One director has described the process as “broken,” a description that others would likely use.

One proposed change provides for “re-scoring” of applications when directors are unable to make an "informed decision" at the board meeting at which an application is considered. The re-scoring would occur when “a material dispute of fact exists or when new information that is not available at the time of the initial review has come to light.”

The staff memo said,
“Programmatic issues, such as whether the agency’s portfolio is well-balanced among diseases, should not be a justification for re-scoring, nor should clear errors in the review of an application that have been identified by staff and presented to the board.”
Other changes would stipulate that CIRM staff would not respond in writing to the board on “extraordinary petitions” unless they believe the petition has merit.

Applicants would be advised that they may submit a petition – which is tantamount to an appeal – five days before the CIRM board is to consider their application “if they believe a material error or omission in the review of their application may have affected the recommendation made by the Grants Working Group to the board.”

Staff summaries of reviewers' recommendations would also cover the “majority views and the minority views, when there is a major difference of scientific opinion between large blocks of reviewers (e.g. eight speaking against and five in favor).”

As we have noted, it is a dismal commentary on CIRM that it has taken the agency until now to post the two-page document on the proposed changes. The agency cannot expect well-considered comments or questions from the hundreds of affected California scientists when it discloses information only one business day prior to the meeting at which a matter is to be considered. Indeed, we suspect that most California stem cell researchers are not even aware that CIRM is considering changes tomorrow that could affect their livelihood and work. That is not to mention that CIRM's belated posting does not come close to meeting the pledge of CIRM Chairman Robert Klein that the $3 billion research effort will adhere to the highest standards of openness and transparency.

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