Tuesday, May 14, 2019

California Eyes "Makeover" -- Sort Of -- For Its $3 Billion Stem Cell Research Program

One might say that the $3 billion California stem cell agency is going into the botanical business this week. That's because tomorrow it will be "let-a-thousand-flowers-bloom" time at the agency.

For a start, the agency has posted 10 pages of "ideas for enhancement" of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), as the agency is formally known. And it wants even more suggestions. 

The initial ideas include barring persons from sitting on the CIRM governing board who have connections to institutions that receive CIRM funds. Others involve creation of a mechanism that would permit CIRM to act more like a venture capitalist.

Still others include topics such as the current 6 percent administrative budget cap, prohibitions on CIRM owning stock, restructuring the research application review process and the expense of renting office space, which drove the agency from its previous headquarters in San Francisco. 

The wide-ranging discussion, scheduled for two hours, is driven by the fact that CIRM will run out of money for new awards this year, possibly as early as September. The agency is hoping for passage of a new ballot initiative in the fall of 2020 that will provide it with $5 billion more.

A fresh, citizen-written initiative means an opportunity to recast CIRM from version 2.0 into version 3.0 with improved abilities to develop stem cell therapies, to deal with the changing economics of medicine and to fix things that weren't quite right in Proposition 71, the 2004 measure that created the agency. 
"CIRM has a unique perspective to offer regarding possible enhancements to Proposition 71 that might further CIRM’s mission more efficiently and improve its operations," the agency said in a document prepared for tomorrow's meeting. 
The agency also that said that the ideas offered in advance "are intended to spark discussion and are not intended to limit discussion topics."

Robert Klein, who led the 2004 campaign and was the agency's first chairman, has indicated that he is once again ready to move forward on a new campaign. He offered other ideas involving a new initiative in an interview recently with the California Stem Cell Report. 

As for the "thousand flowers" business, that is a phrase that is often attributed to Chairman Mao who reportedly actually said 100 -- not 1,000. His remark came in 1957 and was ripe with financial and political implications. So it is once again this week in connection with ideas for what could be CIRM 3.0. 

Tomorrow's meeting will be carried live and interactive on the Internet. Members of the public will be able to listen in and comment. Instructions are on the agenda. 

The meeting will be based in Oakland with teleconference locations for CIRM board members, which the public can share, in Riverside, South San Francisco, San Diego, Napa, San Francisco, Irvine, La Jolla and Rancho Cordova. Specific addresses can be found also on the meeting agenda. 

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