Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The California Stem Cell Agency and Death by Power Point

One of the readers of the California Stem Cell Report this week sent along the following commentary as a result of Monday's item called “Critiquing the California Stem Cell Story: 'Continuums' vs. Cures.”

The reader is a researcher at a major California institution, who does not want to be otherwise identified. The scientist's comment focused on one of the host of Power Point presentations used by CIRM at last January's meeting of the Citizens Financial Accountability and Oversight Committee, the only state entity charged with overseeing the stem cell agency and its governing board. Here is the full text of the comment.
“You referred to the slide show as mind-numbing.  I might call it weird. 
“The title: 'Advancing Stem Cell Science, CIRM's scientific scope' 
“The first slide 'CIRM's vision and strategy'  No vision or strategy follows.
“The near last slide: 'what does CIRM want?' is the stunner.
“CIRM 'wants:' 
“Stem cell therapies -- Not just any therapy but those 'where the stem cell connection is strong.' And if the connection is weak? Say the disease path was identified in stem cells, and the drug for the path made separately or turns out to be a small molecule? Then what? CIRM won't fund it. A plan for development -- so what have they been doing for 10 years?
“CIRM wants to have a strong, 'major impact' -- Is this a vision, lament, or failure to hire the right publicist?
“CIRM wants diseases that already come with biomarkers and a good understanding of the pathophysiology, diseases that come with their own definitions of efficacy, so that clinical trials are easy to do. Heck, if we knew all that, then treatment development would be rational and easy; both NIH and industry money would and does fund it.

“CIRM wants proof of concept by 2017. Please give us a disease and intervention for which we can do a phase 2a study and show efficacy. 
“Finally, CIRM wants 'a strong, credible team with expertise ...' and executive ability.  Yes, as their regular pronouncements indicate, they lack credibility and expertise in many areas?"

Our take: Clearly the use of Power Point presentations at the CFAOC session did not have the desired effect, either on the audience at the time or on the scientist who sent the above commentary. However, that was only part of the problem at that meeting.

The California Stem Cell Report's comment about mind-numbing Power Point presentations was also aimed beyond last January's meeting to include CIRM's heavy reliance on such presentations, which too often substitute for nuanced, written explorations of the issues at hand. The presentations by their very nature are nothing more than outlines. Almost invariably they are simply read to the audience, as in the governing board of the agency. If the goal of the agency is to convince persons outside the agency of the virtues of its billions of dollars in spending, “death by Power Point” is not the way to do it. Like any tool, such presentations have a use. But they are not always the best tool for everything.

Changing or dropping Power Point presentations, however, will not guarantee that CIRM can make the sale on its programs. If it is going to avert financial death in 2017, when funds for new grants run out, it will have develop a pitch that connects viscerally as well as intellectually.   

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous3:13 PM

    This would be hilarious if it weren't so sad. Those Power Points seem designed to numb the mind and make one wish for the end. I wonder if it's a known method to get the board to agree to anything, just to make them stop. Good for the Citizens Financial Accountability and Oversight Committee board member who lost his patience and interrupted!


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