Friday, November 20, 2020

Praise and Advice Given in Review of California's Stem Cell Research Program

The California stem cell agency today received both kudos and advice from the small state panel that is charged by law with reviewing its financial practices and is the only such state entity with that unique task. 

The panel is the Citizens Financial Accountability and Oversight Committee (CFAOC), which was created in 2004 as part of the ballot initiative that also created the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), as the agency is officially known. 

While it reviews the financial affairs of the agency, the CFAOC has no authority to require changes. CIRM's programs will cost state taxpayers an estimated $11.8 billion dollars before funds run out in 10 to 15 years. 

Betty Yee
Controller photo
State Controller Betty Yee is by law the chair of the CFAOC. It also has four other members, one of whom was sworn in just this morning. Yee and the others were liberal in their praise of the agency's work. In addition to the usual financial information, Maria Millan, CEO of the agency, presented the CIRM programs and their successes. 

Millan's presentation was greeted with praise by all the CFAOC members, including Yee. Towards the end of the meeting, Yee said that she and other members would like to be kept up-to-date regularly on CIRM matters since the CFAOC is required to meet only once a year. 

Yee said, "Numbers have lots of stories behind them. I think really to understand them fully, it is about exactly what we learned today."  She  said she hoped that part of the revision of CIRM's strategic plan next year will involve "how do we tell our story better."  Yee said she thought the agency was doing "great" but there was so much to be told. 

Catherine Sarkisian
UCLA photo

The new member of the CFAOC is Catherine Sarkisian, a UCLA physician who specializes in geriatric medicine, an area that Proposition 14 identified as a new target for CIRM.

Sarkisian raised a question about the need for diversity among recipients of  CIRM grants. CIRM officials pointed to existing training programs for high school and college students. Sarkisian said that those were important "pipelines" but that CIRM should consider creation of "on-ramps" to build up diversity among awardees. 

During the meeting, CIRM officials disclosed that the new strategic plan is expected to be approved next summer by the Independent Citizens Oversight Committee (ICOC), as the CIRM governing board is known. Work on it is already underway. Researchers and other members of the public can weigh in on what they would like to see funded over the next five years by emailing their comments to   

CIRM will be operating under a new, 17,000-word statute -- Proposition 14 -- that significantly expands the agency's scope and increases the ICOC size from 29 to 35. 

The new course of the agency is also likely to come up at a Dec. 21 meeting of the CIRM board. The public can address the board online or email comments. The agenda is legally required to be posted Dec. 11. It will contain instructions for online access to the meeting. 

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