Thursday, July 23, 2015

Looking for Clarity at the $3 Billion California Stem Cell Agency

OAKLAND, Ca. -- Scientists and others seeking the short version of the plans for funding of basic and translational research by the $3 billion California stem cell agency should look no further than an 18-page Power Point presentation.

The explanation is available on the agency’s Web site and in some ways is better than the more prolix description offered in three formal memos. While the presentation offers a fast read, seriously interested parties will need to plow through all three documents. (See here, here and here.)

Critical to understand the direction of the agency, however, is another Power Point presentation -- this one by Randy Mills and which is not supported by a memo or other formal document. But some of what Mills lays out in the slides has been brought up at earlier meetings, the voluminous transcripts of which are available on the agency’s Web site, if you can find them.

A search of the agency’s Web site late yesterday using the term “transcript” turned up 879 results. No transcripts of remarks by Mills or of meetings of the agency’s board of directors were found in the first 14 pages of the results.

In his slides today, Mills is covering his thinking on both basic and translational funding and how therapy development should have a continuous and predictable pathway. He likes to talk about it in terms of rail lines, a homely but apt analogy.   

While we are on the subject of Power Point presentations, the agency’s slides have improved greatly since Mills became president of the agency in May 2014.  Nonetheless, Power Point presentations do not necessarily enhance understanding, especially when the presenters do little more than read the notes on the slides. The result is known as Death by PowerPoint!

Slides are no replacement for a single, nuanced, written explanation of a proposal, including charts, something more than the agency usually offers in its memos to the board. That said, their memos have also improved and are more comprehensive and straight forward than under the regime of the agency’s former president, Alan Trounson.

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