Wednesday, January 19, 2011

CIRM Directors to Hand Out $40 Million Next Week; Meeting Details Not Available to Public

Directors of the California stem cell agency meet one week from tomorrow to give away $40 million and move forward on electing a new chairman of the $3 billion enterprise come next June.

With six business days left before the meeting, however, few details of what is to be considered are available to the public via the directors' agenda on the CIRM web site. That is in keeping with the agency's practice of not making such material accessible until very shortly before its board meetings. The de facto policy effectively suppresses public involvement in CIRM affairs.

Some information on the matters before directors on Jan. 27 is available elsewhere on the agency's web site, although it may have changed and be out-of-date. Less than avid users of the web site would have considerable difficulty in locating the information on their own. Nonetheless, the California Stem Cell Report has ferreted out some background on what is likely to be discussed next week by CIRM directors.

Item 8 before directors is only described as "consideration of recommendations from Grants Working Group regarding applications submitted in response to RFA 10-02: CIRM Tools and Technology Awards II." What that means is that directors are virtually certain to give away $40 million to 20 lucky scientists. The board almost always ratifies all the recommendations of its grant reviewers when the reviewers approve funding for applications. Summaries of the reviewers' recommendations were not available at the time of this writing.

Scientists from Germany are collaborating on some of the applications, but their funding will not come from CIRM. The purpose of the grant round is to "develop such tools and techniques that address technical bottlenecks and enable novel translational approaches." Some information on the program can be found here.

CIRM directors are also scheduled to deal with the criteria for a new chair to replace Robert Klein, whose latest retirement date comes in June. The evening before the directors meet, their Governance Subcommittee will discuss the matter and make recommendations to the full board. In contrast to the meeting of the full board, the committee posted all the relevant material well in advance of its meeting. However, that information cannot be found via the agenda for the directors' meeting. But you can find it here and via an item on the California Stem Cell Report.

The CIRM board will also be asked to subsidize trips in June to Toronto for perhaps hundreds of persons for the annual convention of the International Society for Stem Cell Research, the largest such organization in the world. The agenda says subsidies would go to "patient advocates, CIRM Bridges Scholars and other CIRM funded early career scientists." No information was provided via the agenda on the number of persons involved or the total cost of the effort. We could not find such details elsewhere on the CIRM web site.

Information on the ISSCR web site, however, shows that non-member registration for the convention can run as high as $1095 for the four-day session. Then there are hotel, eating and travel expenses. Discounted rooms for single and double occupancy are going for $227 US at the convention hotel, the Fairmount Royal York, which, at 28 stories, once was the tallest building in the British Commonwealth and featured a 50-ton pipe organ. Round trip air fares for June from San Francisco to Toronto were running about $500 to $700 if booked today. No one from CIRM is on the program when we checked. Our ballpark calculations show a very rough cost of $3,000 per person, depending on such variables as the actual cost of registration and flight reservations.

Biotech firms should have considerable interest in a proposal involving the CIRM loan program and "proposed regulatory language/process for multiple payback alternative to warrant coverage for loans." The agency provided no further clue to the specifics although the item probably refers to this Nov. 29 proposal, which could be out-of-date.

In all, CIRM directors have nine matters of considerable importance before them next week. But the public, scientists, the biotech industry, policy makers and others are left in the dark by CIRM if they depend on the agenda that the agency posts.

The directors meetings are the most important public events involving the agency, which is consuming $6 billion(including interest) in taxpayer funds. Giving stakeholders and the public easy access to matters before the  board is a simple and straight-forward task. It would seem to be very much in CIRM's best interests to keep all the interested parties well-informed about its activities.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous6:31 AM

    Dear CIRM,

    Boy have you built some fancy dancy additions to colleges, hired a whole bunch of Staff and middle mgt. TWO Human FDA clinicals underway now and CIRM is invested in NONE of them. Your promise of Getting hESC drugs to the bedside has failed. You and your staff continue hand out money to your cronies and favorite colleges. What is CIRM going to do when a Geron Corp patient appears on Good Morning America and can now walk? What is CIRM going to do when a 12yr little girl suffering from Stargardt's tells the New York Times that Advanced Cell Technology cured her blindness? BOTH OF THESE COMPANYS ARE CALIFORNIA BASED CORPS. What are You guys douing? what do you have to show for your money spent? brick and mortar and a few cronies? Should be ashamed of yoruselves.