Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Center for Genetics and Society: 'Wrong' to Ask for More Billions for Stem Cell Agency

IRVINE, Ca. – The Center for Genetics and Society today said it would "wrong" to ask the people of California for more money to continue financing stem cell research at state expense.

Marcy Darnovsky, associate executive director of the Berkeley, Ca., non-profit group, addressed a blue-ribbon Institute of Medicine panel evaluating the performance of the $3 billion California stem cell agency, which is financed by money borrowed by the state. The agency is expected to run out of cash in about five years.

Darnovsky said,
"In structural terms, a key question now is what will happen after CIRM’s public funding is exhausted. According to CIRM’s transition plan, another bond measure for additional public funding 'would be premature at this time,' but is still on the table. In our view, any additional public monies for CIRM would have to be justified in an analysis that emphasized health care priorities and health care disparities. While there is always tension between the allocation of public funds to scientific research and to other public goods, given our state’s economic decline and budgetary crisis, with so many critical social programs being gutted, we believe it would be simply wrong to ask Californians to set aside more money for one avenue of research, however important."
Representatives of the stem cell agency were present at today's hearing on the UC Irvine campus, but did not speak publicly at today's session. CIRM officials, however, have testified before the panel on two other days of public hearings. The agency is paying the IOM $700,000 to conduct the study. Its results and recommendations are expected to be published in November.

Darnovsky and others testifying at the morning session were critical of the agency's lack of accountability, built-in conflicts of interest and immunity from normal government oversight (see here and here).

Darnovsky said, "
The requirement for 70% super-majorities (to change the law regarding CIRM) means that there is still no meaningful oversight of CIRM by elected officials. The ICOC is still tainted by its built-in conflicts of interest. It still includes no representation of the public beyond disease advocates. Members of CIRM’s powerful Working Groups, including the one that reviews grant applications, are still not required to publicly disclose their individual financial interests.

"Given that hundreds of millions of dollars remain to be disbursed, and the widely mooted possibility that CIRM will develop a role that continues beyond the public funding stream that was allocated in 2004, now is the time to clarify and address these issues."
Here is the full text of Darnovsky's comments.
Center for Genetics and Society statement to IOM-CIRM panel, April 10 2012

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