Friday, February 09, 2007

More on grant proposals on stem cell research at CIRM

In the past, there has been much discussion of the secrecy of grant proposals for research on embryonic stem cells at CIRM. Secrecy was defended on the basis that CIRM was acting just like NIH (or NSF). CIRM has released evaluation results. Californiastemcellreport said:

Tuesday's announcement of the scores on the first-ever research grants to be awarded by the California stem cell agency received virtually no media attention.

A brief note popped in the East Bay Business Times, which is all that surfaced in what one might call mainstream media. But a biotech blog called PIMM published an item and included the scientific ranking of all the proposals. Attila Csordás, posting on PIMM, recommended reading the "WEAKNESSES" (their capitalization) section of the reviews of the grant proposals.

Of the analogy to NSF, one notes:

Does NSF publish a scientific ranking of all the proposals? No
Does NSF publish comments by the reviewers of the proposals? No
Are such things publicly available? No

Thus, CIRM made the analogy when convenient, but does not actually conform to the analogy to federal granting agencies. Similarly, any analogy between Proposition 71 and the Bayh-Dole Act is without merit.

On a separate, but not unrelated, point, a reporter has stated that a
Jan 29 post is a cheap shot. The January 29 post linked to an earlier post, which was critical of a report in the Sacramento Bee. One notes that the reporter is aware of the issues raised in the 26 Aug 06 post, has no answer to the criticism, but (apparently) has made no correction, so that readers of the Sacramento Bee will assume the article in the Bee is accurate.

If IPBiz is correct, the work by ACT published in 2006 will NEVER be used to invalidate patents issued to WARF prior to 2006.

Why does this matter? One reason may be found in californiastemcellreport, wherein the report made reference to a study on publicity surrounding Proposition 71, which study relied on NEWSPAPER reports (not on journal articles or "refereed" publications). If uncorrected errors concerning stem cell research remain in newspapers, later academic studies which rely on the truth of the newspapers are seriously compromised.
Separately, one notes that the Baker-Deal report, used as a pro-Proposition 71 advocacy vehicle BEFORE Proposition 71 passed, has come under increased scrutiny years AFTER Proposition 71 passed. In terms of newspaper responsibility, the flaws in the report could have been exposed before the vote by the newspapers, but they were not. The californiastemcellreport noted of work by David Hamilton:
If medical treatments can be derived from stem-cell research, they are at least a decade or two away, if history is any guide. Even then, new therapies envisioned by supporters, such as diabetes treatments that regenerate insulin-producing islet cells, might add to government health-care costs instead of curbing them. The Baker-Deal report (from the 2004 Prop. 71 campaign) figured that stem-cell therapies could save California at least $3.4 billion in health-care costs over the next three decades by assuming the therapies would reduce state spending on six major medical conditions by 1 percent to 2 percent. While the authors cast that as a 'conservative' estimate, they don't even model the possibility that costs might rise instead. Recent medical advances haven't appreciably slowed growth in overall U.S. health-care spending, which continues to rise far faster than inflation.
Why did Baker and Deal see dollar signs? The $200,000 stem-cell supporters paid to Deal's firm, the Analysis Group, for campaign consulting might have something to do with it. In an interview, Baker said he didn't think of the report as advocacy but added that 'we knew we were working for people who wanted to pass this thing.' And while he still believes the economic benefits of stem-cell research could be 'quite large,' Baker also describes the report as merely 'one possible version of how things might happen.'

Californiastemcellreport concluded the post:
Hamilton's piece does not deal with a related reason for the economic argument for ESC research. Creating a dream of riches is an attempt -- generally successful, we might add -- to shift the terms of the debate. It is a no-win proposition if ESC research backers find themselves locked into a discussion of whether they are killing babies. [IPBiz: ???]
IPBiz notes that neither Hamilton nor californiastemcellreport (much less Baker and Deal) dealt with the realities of the research exemption of 35 USC 271(e)(1). Those most likely to fall within the scope of claims ("infringers") of early-issued patents will be other researchers, who will be within the exemption of 35 USC 271(e)(1) and thus will pay no royalties. Additionally, even "for-profit" entities doing work to fulfill federal regulations will also be exempt. The dream of patent royalties on a ten year time scale was, and is, illusory, but no one, including newspaper reporters, flagged the issue.

The text (in the Hamilton piece) --while he still believes the economic benefits of stem-cell research could be 'quite large,' Baker also describes the report as merely 'one possible version of how things might happen.' -- is similar to statements made by Douglas J. Feith about the so-called alternative intelligence assessments on the possible Iraq and Al Qaeda relationship. Feith issued a memo which disagreed with CIA opinions in an area of fact othat was a bit difficult to analyze. Baker's analysis failed to incorporate legal issues (e.g., research exemption, issues with use of tax-free bonds) in addition to projecting an overly optimistic view of possible patent royalties.


One IPBiz reader noted: I think your updates are quite cogent....but who is listening?? After all, there are careers to be made, undergrads to educate, PhDs to grant....all over stuff with about as much "utility" as xenon chemistry.

IPBiz notes that the near-term commercialization prospects for human SCNT are most likely poor, and that training of scientists may be the most likely short-term benefit of Proposition 71 funding.

Leaving aside what California taxpayers will, and will not, receive for the $3 billion, IPBiz is concerned about the misrepresentations made PRIOR TO the vote. There was a great imbalance in funding between pro- and anti- Proposition 71 forces, and the newspapers in California did not step up to the plate to evaluate objectively various assertions.


Blogger Lawrence B. Ebert said...

The article in question is
The Scope of Public Discourse Surrounding Proposition 71: Looking Beyond the Moral Status of the Embryo, Journal of Bioethical Inquiry (Aug. 2006) by (among others) Tamra Lysaght.

12:14 PM  

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