Wednesday, June 15, 2011

CIRM Deficient Again on Informing the Public and Stem Cell Community

Directors of the $3 billion California stem cell agency have scheduled a two-day meeting in San Diego next week that is chock-a-block full with complex and enormously expensive business ranging from generous grant programs to revamping reviews on its highest profile financing rounds.

That is not to mention the matter of electing a new chairman for what may well be the final years of the research enterprise.

Outgoing Chairman Robert Klein has stuffed 24 items into the agenda. Some are routine but others are controversial, such as the management restructuring plan. Another far-reaching proposal involves significant changes in how the agency reviews applications in its clinical trials and disease team rounds, which can award $20 million or more on an individual application.

Meanwhile, the public and the California stem cell research community is coming up short. With only five business days left before the meeting begins next Wednesday, CIRM has failed to post on the board agenda any significant background information on the matters that its 29 directors are set to consider.

CIRM leadership fusses and fumes from time to time about the lack of media coverage, particularly "good" media coverage of the agency. One of the basics in helping to drive media attention is to make information about an enterprise accessible and transparent. CIRM is famously deficient in that area when it comes to its most important activity – meetings of its board of directors. (See here, here, here, here, here and here for a few examples.)

Beyond that, as a taxpayer-funded endeavor, CIRM has an obligation to openness and transparency under California law.

The agency will run out of cash in a few years and is talking up a fresh pitch to California voters for as much as $5 billion – money that the state has to borrow. Given the financial crisis in California state government – which is not going away in one or two years – CIRM will need tangible research results that the public will find persuasive. But another critical measure is the agency's record of openness and transparency. A pattern of withholding information leads even supporters to suspect the worst.

As state Controller John Chiang, the state's top fiscal officer, said more than a year ago,
“To ensure that taxpayer dollars are spent lawfully, wisely and successfully, the stem cell program must pursue the highest standards of transparency to be fully accountable to the public.”

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous12:54 PM

    San Diego is the hotbed of human embryonic stem cell research and regenerative medicine, full of brilliant stem cell scientists, how come CIRM could not find one to speak at their annual meeting. Having Yang Xu, connected to CIRM director David Baltimore and > 10 millions for not having to make one single stem cell accomplishment, to speak about induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) that so far the scientific field has not given the consent that iPSCs are even stem cells yet, is shame on San Diego.


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