Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Some California Stem Cell Board Members Bristle at IOM Recommendations

Some directors of the $3 billion California stem cell agency today sharply challenged recommendations by the Institute of Medicine(IOM) concerning conflicts of interest and the role of patient advocates on the governing board.

Much  of the criticism came from the 10 patient advocate members on the board, whose roles would be significantly altered  under the IOM recommendations. Jeff Sheehy, a patient advocate for HIV/AIDs and vice chairman of the agency's grant review group, said he saw no evidence in the IOM report for its recommendations regarding patient advocates. He said,
 "If you had some here, I would be more comfortable." 
He continued,
"We are not all powerful. We are a minority on the (29-member) board." 
Jonathan Shestack, another patient/adovcate director, said the IOM's conclusions on "conflicts of interest could not possibly be more incorrect than they are." He said,
"Advocates are here to advocate."
Harold Shapiro, chairman of the IOM study, said, "We are not against patient advocates." He said that the IOM supports advocates and that its recommendations could increase the role of patient advocates, albeit in a different manner.

Shapiro added that conflicts of interest do not necessary bar participation by board members. He said, however, they must be disclosed and managed.

Director Robert Price of UC Berkeley said,
 "We have gone to great lengths to manage conflicts of interest."
The IOM recommended that all board members be removed from the grant review process, which would be turned over to the CIRM president. The board would only vote on a slate of applications, not individual grants. More disclosure would be required of personal conflicts of interest, including health matters, that the board said research has shown can create bias.

 The IOM report said,
 “Far too many board mem­bers represent organizations that receive CIRM funding or benefit from that funding. These com­peting personal and professional interests com­promise the perceived independence of the ICOC(the CIRM governing board), introduce potential bias into the board’s decision making, and threaten to undermine confidence in the board.”
More than 90 percent of the $1.7 billion that the CIRM board has awarded has gone to institutions that are represented on the CIRM governing board.

J.T. Thomas, chairman of the CIRM board, said that the agency takes the recommendations "very seriously" and that they would discussed further at a board workshop in early January. The workshop is scheduled to be public but the date and location has not been announced. Thomas said the recommendations will receive "lengthy discussion" thereafter and review by appropriate subcommittees of directors.

No one from the public commented during the roughly 90 minute discussion.  Eighteen out of 29 board members were present at the beginning of today's meeting.

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