Friday, January 20, 2012

Performance Review of California Stem Cell Agency Dominated by $418 Million Worth of Friendly Witnesses

The Institute of Medicine opens its inquiry in San Francisco next week into the performance of the $3 billion California stem cell agency with testimony from representatives of enterprises that have received $418 million from the agency. No independent witnesses are scheduled to appear.

The IOM is being paid $700,000 by the stem cell agency to conduct the study, which was authorized by the CIRM board in 2010, with the hope that the findings would bolster voter support for another multibillion dollar bond measure for the agency.

So far the IOM-CIRM panel has held one day of public hearings in Washington, D.C., only involving CIRM representatives. Next week's session will be one of two days of public hearings in California before the inquiry is concluded. Another one-day public session is scheduled for Washington. So far the IOM-CIRM panel has not publicly heard any independent analysis of CIRM operations.

Earlier this week, the California Stem Cell Report asked Harold Shapiro, chairman of the IOM-CIRM panel, whether the IOM actually expected to receive forthright assessments of CIRM from individuals linked to institutions that have received hundreds of millions of dollars from the agency.

Shapiro did not reply but referred the inquiry to a public relations person at the IOM, Christine Stencel. She said that next week's meeting is one of "several means" by which the panel will gather information. She pointed to a short note on the IOM website linking to survey forms for others who may be interested in communicating with the panel.

Eleven witnessesses are scheduled for next Tuesday's meeting. Five are CIRM employees or members of the CIRM governing board. The remaining six come from institutions that have received $418 million from CIRM: Stanford ($193 million), UC San Francisco ($115 million), UC Davis($62 million) and UC Berkeley ($48 million). Five of the witnesses have received grants directly from CIRM: Alice Tarantal of UC Davis($5 million), Howard Chang of Stanford ($3.2 million), Irina Conboy of UC Berkeley ($2.2 million), Helen Blau of Stanford ($1.4 million) and John Murnane of UC San Francisco ($1 million).

We asked Shapiro how the witnesses for next week were selected. Stencel replied,
"The list of presenters and topics you see on the agenda reflect information and insights that the committee considered useful at this point in its work."
We asked,
"Why weren't representatives from other well-informed California organizations invited, such as the Little Hoover Commission, which performed a lengthy study of CIRM, and the Center for Genetics and Society, which has followed CIRM since 2004.?  Are there any plans to seek them out for public comment?"
The IOM did not respond directly but made the general statement about using "several means" to gather information.

We also asked,
"Why is 50 percent of (next week's) meeting being held behind closed doors? Who is expected to testify? What will be the nature of the business to be discussed? CIRM is a public enterprise, engaged in spending $6 billion (including interest) of taxpayer funds. It would seem that almost nothing that it does should be  barred from public scrutiny."
Stencel replied,
"The closed portion of the meeting will be devoted to internal committee discussions; there will be no presentations. This is per the National Academies study process."
(The National Academies are the parent organization of the IOM.)

Two members and the study director of the IOM-CIRM panel also made an unannounced trip to California last year, visiting Stanford and UC San Francisco in addition to CIRM offices. The IOM did not respond directly to questions from the California Stem Cell Report about whether the trip was at the invitation of CIRM and whether the traveling members met with any representatives of institutions or groups that have not received CIRM funds. Stencel said the trip was undertaken to gain a "better understanding" of the task before the panel.

The text of the questions asked by the California Stem Cell Report and the IOM response can be found here.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous2:05 PM

    Did CA pay for this study too? They should use that &700,000 to develop stem cell therapy, rather than for paid coverup. Alan Trounson paid $500K a year, he can go through CIRM awards to sort out the few ones that met Prop71 scientific merits from those CA not supposed to pay.


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