Tuesday, March 08, 2011

California Stem Cell Agency Ventures into Publishing

The California stem cell agency appears ready to partner with the AlphaMed Press of North Carolina to start a new scientific journal dealing with stem cell research and efforts to translate the findings into clinical treatments.

CIRM's venture into publishing comes amid a proliferation of new journals devoted to stem cell research.

CIRM plans to commit $600,000 over a three-year period to kick off the new publication, which would be edited by Anthony Atala, director of the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine.

In a memo to the CIRM board, agency president Alan Trounson said competing proposals from Elsevier, one of the larger scientific publishers in the world, and the International Society for Stem Cell Research, were not as good as that offered by AlphaMed, which has published the "Stem Cells" journal for 29 years.

Trounson is currently listed on the AlphaMed web site as a member of its editorial board. Don Gibbons, chief communications officer for CIRM, said in January, however, that Trounson had resigned from the panel.

In an email, Gibbons said,
"Alan has been an editorial board member at 'Cell Stem Cell' and 'Stem Cell.' His role was to peer review articles submitted for publication. He did not receive compensation, expense reimbursement, travel, or any other form of payment from either publisher. There is no conflict of interest under CIRM or state rules. When these two publishers submitted proposals, however, Alan decided to (and did) resign from the editorial boards."
AlphaMed's editorial board also includes a number of CIRM grant recipients.

In an acknowledgement of the difficult scientific publishing environment, Trounson plans to change the original terms of the RFP to stipulate that the journal be self-sustaining in five years instead of three.

Stem cell journals have proliferated in recent years, according to an article Aug. 7, 2010, in "Stem Cell Reviews and Reports." In the piece, Paul Sanberg and Cesar Borlongan, both with the medical school at the University of South Florida, reported on what they called a "rapidly evolving field." They said 18 journals now exist directly focusing on stem cell research and another 16 have "relevant overlaps to stem cell research." They noted that their count is not "exhaustive."

Sanberg and Borlongan wrote,
"With new journal proliferation comes competition. It has recently come to light that publishing stem cell studies has been fierce and sometimes hostile, with allegations of biased reviewers blocking competitors’ novel findings, leading to significant delay in publication or outright rejection (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/8490291.stm). New stem cell journals and traditional journals must amend their policies to allow more transparent review and editorial decision handling of stem cell and similar cutting edge research. Stem cell research is one of the most entrepreneurial areas of medical science. It is therefore not surprising that entrepreneurial publishers have developed numerous publication outlets for this rapidly expanding field. Ultimately, whether this stem cell journal proliferation continues, and aids the field of stem cells to 'differentiate' into a more mature research arena, will depend on the quality of peer review and science of stem cells."
Trounson's memo to the board did not address the issues raised in the Sanberg-Borlongan article.

He said the new, open-access journal would have full editorial independence, would publish "negative data" and periodic commentaries from CIRM that have been "appropriately" peer reviewed. Funds for the project are included in this year's CIRM budget. Trounson earlier said that new journal would help to accelerate the “the entire field as knowledge is aggregated and shared more readily” and encourage collaboration between stem cell biologists, clinicians and engineers.

The main office for AlphaMed is in Durham, N.C., although it has an office in California, according to Trounson.

Although CIRM is barred from funding research outside of California, CIRM's Gibbons said,
"Nothing in our statute prevents us from contracting for other services outside of California."
Trounson's memo said the first articles will go online this December with the print publication in January.

His memo appears to be principally an information item for the CIRM board on Thursday. It did not specify what action, if any, was needed by the board to execute the agreement with AlphaMed.

Here are links to the proposals by the three competing organizations.

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