Saturday, June 18, 2011

CIRM Director Samuelson on Laggard Information: 'It's crazy. It isn't professional. It bugs me.'

Failure of the $3 billion California stem cell agency to make information available this month in a timely fashion led one of its directors to vote against major changes in its grant review procedures and abstain on another $30 million grant proposal.

Joan Samuelson
The director involved is Joan Samuelson of Healdsburg, Ca., an attorney and patient advocate member of the 29-member board. The occasion was the June 6 meeting of the directors' Science Subcommittee. Ironically,  one of the proposals involved would mandate greater advance notice to some grant applicants about issues on their applications than the advance notice that the CIRM board itself receives on matters it is considering. The other item  would create a new, $30 million "opportunity fund."

Both proposals were not made available to the public until Saturday June 4 for a meeting Monday June 6. Members of the Science Subcommittee apparently did not receive information about the matters any sooner than the public. Samuelson's reaction to the laggard performance was stronger, but not isolated from complaints heard in the past from some directors about late information. (See here for a discussion of problems with CIRM openness.)

Here are excerpts of what Samuelson, other directors and CIRM staff had to say June 6, according to the transcript, which was posted two days ago with little notice -- standard policy for CIRM.
Samuelson: "This is going to feel like the bad kid at the birthday party. I think we have to go back to the beginning and just acknowledge that we didn't have time to reflect on this stuff. The beginnings of the agenda came on Friday, and there wasn't -- at the end of the day and then we were getting stuff just a few hours ago.

"So I'm hoping we're not going to make any permanent decisions or recommendations to the (governing board) until we've had some time to reflect on it. And in part that's because it seems to me there's some questions about whether this changes programmatic review, whether it changes the nature of the (grant review group), and the way that the patient advocates are involved in it. It excludes them from participation in at least one place."
Outgoing CIRM Chairman Robert Klein pressed for action on the matter. He said a "number of board members" asked that it come to the full board in June.

Ellen Feigal, CIRM vice president for research and development, responded, generating the following exchange:
Feigal: "Frankly, we're not going to be able to try this out until next year."

Samuelson: "Then, for goodness sakes, let's wait till the next board meeting."

Feigal: "Well, we don't need to wait. I think --"

Samuelson: "If it was in such a rush, why didn't we get the material earlier? We should have some kind of timetable."

Feigal: "I think what we're trying to do is be responsive to the board and to -- at our last review group meeting, we had told people that we were going to do this in due diligence, and we tried to pass this forward. So just let us know how --"

Samuelson: "I'd like two weeks notice for any changes in the process."

Jeff Sheehy(chair of the committee): "I have a motion on the floor, and I'd like to get a second, and then I'm going to take public comment."
The discussion continued with more comment about how some board members wanted to consider the proposal while the problems with the clinical trial round were fresh in their minds.

Feigal then said that the proposal would have to go out to affected parties before this fall.
Feigal: "If we don't present it (to the board)in June, we don't have much time.

Samuelson: "I'm going to have to vote against it, and I don't want to do that. I just feel like in good conscience, I need to feel like the process was deliberative enough, and I just don't feel that way."
CIRM President Alan Trounson said he had brought the matter up a year ago and has been talking about it to board members for a "long time."
Samuelson said: "Jeff, could you add to the agenda a discussion of the timetable for bringing materials to the subcommittee?"

Sheehy: "I take responsibility for the delay in getting materials for it, Joan."

Samuelson: "We're going to in a minute be voting on something that I didn't have any time to look at at all because it arrived about an hour ago."

Sheehy: "I understand. I understand. we're trying. all of us –"

Samuelson: "I'm not complaining as long as I'm not obligated to make decisions on it in real time. It's crazy. It isn't professional. It bugs me. so I think -- if we can't be sure that staff will get it to us, then we've got to set a time frame."

Sheehy: "I think it's something we can discuss at the next subcommittee meeting."
Pat Olson, executive director of scientific activities, subsequently addressed the matter, declaring:
"Joan, I do apologize for the delay in getting the materials out. That was actually my fault. I'm not going to let Jeff take the blame for that. And I apologize because I've been working on getting an RFA out. So there is a lot of things going on right now. So that's wholly my problem, and I take full responsibility for it. Nonetheless, I think that the dialogue here should be helpful in essentially clarifying things."

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous12:05 PM

    Joan Samuelson you are this reader's Public Servant Hero. Thank you for being diligent, speaking clearly, and working for the benefit of the people of the State of California.


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