Saturday, May 03, 2014

San Francisco Chronicle: California Stem Cell Agency 'Hasn't Lived up to Hype'

One of the “problems,” you might say, with things like picking a new president is that it calls attention to one's activities, for better or worse.

A case in point is an editorial this morning in the San Francisco Chronicle, which used the selection of a new president for the California stem cell agency as a springboard to a wider discussion. Its conclusions are not likely to make the agency happy. The newspaper said the $3 billion research effort has compiled a “decidedly mixed” record. The headline declared,
“State stem cell agency hasn't lived up to its hype.”

The editorial, which reflects the institutional stand of the Chronicle, noted that the agency will run out of cash for new research in less than three years. It continued,
“As far as the public is concerned, nagging questions remain: Has the institute been effective enough? How good should California taxpayers feel about the institute's use of their $3 billion? 
“The answer is a decidedly mixed one. 
“Part of the problem is that California taxpayers had outsize expectations when they passed Prop. 71(which created the agency).”

The editorial said,
“Progress on stem cell research has been significant - but it's been the progress of the tortoise rather than the hare. It was irresponsible for the backers of Prop. 71 to convince the California public that cures were just around the corner, and it is unfortunate that so many Californians are disappointed with the institute because they believed this.
“'People were schooled to believe that all of these breakthroughs were right around the corner,' said Marcy Darnovsky, executive director of the Center for Genetics and Society. "You can't schedule scientific breakthroughs.'
“'That's not the institute's fault. Still, it's been a struggle to get the agency to use the best organizational practices. In 2012, a blue-ribbon committee of the National Academy of Sciences released a report after a yearlong review that found conflicts of interest on the CIRM board that threatened to 'undermine respect for its decisions.' It also found significant flaws in the agency's grant-approval process.'
“The institute responded to all of this criticism by dragging its feet about making necessary changes to improve operations and create a board with more independence. Last year, it changed its voting procedures for board members who are members of institutions, to answer the criticism - but the change came awfully late.”

The editorial concluded,
“Prop. 71 was an initiative passed based on the politics of the time. It's difficult to call it a total failure, especially during a time when U.S. public investment in scientific research is so low.
But stem cell research has finally gotten off the ground all over the country, and the institute's operations over the past decade haven't inspired the confidence California voters would need to offer the agency more money. The agency will need to rely on private investment if it's to continue its mission.”

The Chronicle's editorial today stood in sharp opposition to its position Sept. 30, 2004, when it enthusiastically endorsed Proposition 71. Ironically, the 2004 editorial carried some of the hyperbolic adjectives that its editorial today deplored, including such expressions as “bold,” “brimming with potential,” “unquestioned promise,” “significant (economic) windfall” along with the phrase “considerable savings on health care.”

The bottom line – 10 years ago – for the Chronicle on the California stem cell agency?
“As a society, we have a moral and ethical obligation to pursue this potentially life-enhancing science with a sense of mission that is now lacking in the nation's capital. California has long been a leader in biotechnology and other burgeoning research industries. Proposition 71 gives the state an opportunity to fund another crucial area of medical technology. This state is big enough to support such an adventurous and exciting quest -- and it should -- since it offers not just promise, but hope.”

The California stem cell agency could and does make much the same argument today for continued financial support.

(Editor's note: The National Academy of Sciences report mentioned in the editorial was prepared by a committee of the Institute of Medicine, which is the health arm of the academy.)

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous8:34 AM

    What would you have expected to happen once the taxpayers funded scientist and PhD's associated with Big Pharma to do???? Build fancy administration buildings, laboratories, and sit around all day and discuss there. How many of these individuals who helped spend approx.. $2.4 Billion of taxpayers funds actually had patients in their care? Look at all the recent articles where scientist falsified data or their findings could not be replicated by others....physicians who actually care for patients have made greater strides in the field of regenerative medicine than CIRM could make in 30 years. CIRM will be another boondoggle where no one is held responsible for the waste of taxpayer funds. Gov't, Scientist, and PhD's should should move aside and allow actual doctors to care for their patients with the clinical advancements that have already been made in the field of regenerative medicine.


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