Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Texas and California: Conflicts, Research Funding and Controversy

As directors of the $3 billion California stem cell agency begin a critical meeting today that involves both its future and conflicts of interest, a move is afoot in Texas to cut off funding for a similar research organization embroiled in controversy over its grant review process and favoritism.

The Texas Tribune in Austin yesterday reported that a Republican legislator has introduced a measure that could ending funding for the $3 billion Cancer Prevention and Research Institute in that state. Both the Texas organization and the California agency rely on money (bonds) that is borrowed by their state governments. Other separate kmoves are also underway in the Texas legislature to make major changes in the research funding.

The Texas agency has been involved in controversy over its grant review procedures for months. The issues have led to mass resignations of its reviewers and persistent public turmoil. In California last fall, CIRM President Alan Trounson warned about the implications of the Texas flap for his agency. Later in December, the blue-ribbon report by the Institute of Medicine about CIRM said the Texas situation “illustrates the importance of rigorous scientific review free from inherent or perceived conflict and the consequences when these boundaries appear to be breached.”

The IOM study of CIRM said “far too many” of the agency's directors are linked to organizations that have received CIRM grants. A compilation by the California Stem Cell Report shows that about 90 percent of the $1.7 billion awarded by the governing board have gone to institutions with ties to directors.

The IOM inquiry, commissioned by CIRM at a cost of $700,000, recommended that a majority on the 29-member CIRM governing board consist of "independent" members. Currently the board has no “independent” members. They come from legal classifications that range from patient advocate to five “executive officers” from five different University of California campuses. Industry is only marginally directly represented on the board. The specific classifications can be found in this CIRM document.

Today's meeting begins at 10:30 a.m. PST in Berkeley. The California Stem Cell Report will provide live coverage of the sessions today and tomorrow via the audiocast that is available to the public. Directions for listening to the audiocast can be found on the meeting agenda

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