Sunday, January 30, 2005

More on California's Prop 71 and stem cell agency

There have been issues in constructing the appropriate interface between the public money of California's Proposition 71 and private companies. Although the stem cell initiative requires that all state money go to public or nonprofit institutes, biotech firms can partner with them and benefit from their discoveries. The name of the state stem cell agency is California Institute for Regenerative Medicine.

The San Diego Union Tribune reported on Jan. 19:

Dr. Evan Snyder, a stem cell researcher at the Burnham Institute,
said the state's scientific community expects the California stem cell initiative to operate much like the National Institutes of Health has for decades.

The NIH has grant applications that are "exquisitely detailed,"
thoroughly listing all steps the scientists plan to take, including materials and animal testing to be used, Snyder said.

Snyder also said the measure could become a fulcrum for scientists in
competing research institutions and private enterprise to collaborate. In that way each lab could work in the area of science it does best, which could accelerate the basic research that still needs to be done on the working of stem cells.

As government appointees, the members of the governing board of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine were required to file with the state Fair Political Practices Commission. Information from the Sacramento Bee (January 21, 2005) indicates ten (10) appointees of the 29 directors of California's new stem cell program hold board positions or stock in a wide variety of pharmaceutical and biotech firms that opponents of Proposition 71 and consumer advocates said could one day benefit from the state's financing of stem cell research. Edward Penhoet reported owning at least $3.36 million in stocks and stock options in biotech firms, including more than $1 million each - the maximum required to be
reported - in Chiron Corp., Renovis and ZymoGenetics. Penhoet is also a partner in Alta Partners, a San Francisco venture
capital firm investing in biotech. Venture capitalists donated about 40 percent of the $27 million raised for the Proposition 71 campaign. But neither Penhoet nor any other Alta Partners employees are listed among the initiative's contributors.

A different situation was presented by Dr. Josephine Phyllis Preciado, a Fresno physician appointed to the stem cell board because of her advocacy for low-income people and minority communities affected by diabetes. She filed one of the shortest forms, detailing only one outside source of income: her husband's
salary as a sales associate at Home Depot.

Additionally, critics have noted that financial disclosures are not
mandated for scientific and other outside advisers who will be deciding on grant requests -- decisions the governing board is likely to rubber-stamp in all but a very few exceptional cases. (SF Chronicle, Jan. 19)

Jamie Court, head of the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights: "If there are conflicts, there are always going to be questions about whether this research is being done for the public's interest or the pecuniary interests of those serving on the board."
[As a side point, I have not seen recent discussion on whether California taxpayers might be reimbursed if some treatment arising from the stem cell program is commercially successful.]

Wesley J. Smith of the Weekly Standard (Nov. 15) added a different dimension:

The passage of proposition 71 in California (the Stem Cell Research
and Cures Act) was an acute case of electoral folly. As Californians plunged headlong into a $6 billion quagmire of debt in a quixotic quest for "miracle cures" from human cloning and embryonic stem cells, they simultaneously rejected Prop. 67, an initiative that would have added a modest tax to phone bills to keep the state's
endangered emergency rooms and trauma centers from shutting down.


Blogger David Jensen said...

If you are interested in developing issues concerning the California stem cell agency, you might want to take a look at

The latest addition to it looks at the grossly inadequate performance by the agency regarding its meetings.
David Jensen

1:33 PM  

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