Committee Votes To Locate Stem Cell Research Institute Headquarters in San Francisco
The Independent Citizens' Oversight Committee on Friday voted to locate the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine headquarters in San Francisco, the San Diego Union-Tribune reports. San Francisco received 16 votes, and San Diego received 11 in the final round of voting. The three ICOC members who voted for Sacramento on the first ballot voted for San Francisco in the second round(Somers, San Diego Union-Tribune, 5/7).
ICOC's site-selection subcommittee on May 2 made a nonbinding recommendation that San Francisco be chosen to host CIRM. The city scored 222.75 points in the review process, ahead of fellow finalists Sacramento and San Diego, which scored 200.5 and 199.8 points, respectively (California Healthline, 5/3).
San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom (D) said his city's proposal included $17 million in financial incentives. In addition to 10 years rent-free in an office building near the University of California-San Francisco's Mission Bay campus, the offer included $900,000 worth of free and discounted hotel rooms, free access to several conference centers and free use of 46,000 square feet of laboratory space at San Francisco General Hospital (AP/Washington Times, 5/7).
Although supporters of the San Diego bid had voiced concerns about the site-selection subcommittee's scoring system, they did not dispute the final vote.
"We're all disappointed, but the process today was as fair as it could be," Julie Meier Wright, president of San Diego Regional Economic Development, said (San Diego Union-Tribune, 5/7).
Newsom said, "We're humbled by the process; this was a long road and a challenging one." He added, "This secures our future as a point of destination for discovery" (Sahagun, Los Angeles Times, 5/7).
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said, "San Francisco is now primed to become the stem cell research capital of the world and the center of biotechnology research in the United States." She added, "The stem cell institute will serve as a magnet for job growth in the Bay Area region" (Hall, San Francisco Chronicle, 5/8).
Many San Francisco business leaders "are banking on the stem cell agency to spin off high-paying jobs, political prestige and biotech firms," the Times reports (Sahagun, Los Angeles Times, 5/7).
Michael Bishop, chancellor of UCSF, said, "There's not much of an industry around stem cells yet. We haven't even figured out how to make the stem cells do what we need them to do to be useful clinically. Until that's done, it's a pretty shaky business for startups." He added, "I'd like to be more rah-rah, but that's the way it is."
Bay Area scientists expressed caution that proximity to CIRM's headquarters should not be a factor in determining where CIRM funding is awarded (San Francisco Chronicle, 5/8).
ICOC Chair Robert Klein on Friday announced that he is seeking $100 million in private contributions to maintain CIRM operations after funds are expected to be exhausted in November because of lawsuits delaying bonds approved under Proposition 71 from being sold.
Klein said foundations and philanthropists could provide a "bridge loan" to CIRM to "make certain this momentum to develop new research and medical therapies is not slowed down." Klein did not name potential contributors. He said that contributors only would be repaid if the CIRM bonds were sold, and that the loans would become permanent contributions if the bonds remained unsold.
Klein said he will explore the possibility of private contributions further on Monday at the first meeting of CIRM's finance committee.
Jesse Reynolds, program director at the Center for Genetics and Society, said Klein's plan is "risky" and would create a "strange relationship between a public agency and private lenders." He added that Klein could become vulnerable to allegations of conflicts of interest if he sought contributions from foundations that could at some point seek CIRM research funds.
Klein said ICOC's process for reviewing funding allocations protects against conflicts of interest. He added that Proposition 71 included provisions for contributors to help fund grants and loans.
Such contributions during the 2004 election were "presented as matching funds" that were to be "solicited by researchers" seeking CIRM funds, according to the Sacramento Bee.
Klein said, "The problem here is we can't afford to lose eight to 10 months while this process (of litigation) moves forward."
Sen. Deborah Ortiz (D-Sacramento) said Klein's plan "would just make a murky issue even murkier," adding, "It is not the kind of openness you expect in government" (Mecoy, Sacramento Bee, 5/7).
ICOC on Friday approved a three-year, $45 million training initiative that would finance 200 postdoctoral research and clinical fellowships at universities and other research centers in the state. Institutions have been asked to send ICOC letters of intent (San Francisco Chronicle, 5/8).
The initiative includes an initial $15.3 million to train stem cell researchers in the state. ICOC also approved the appointment of 40 scientists, disease patient advocates and ethicists to two working groups (Sacramento Bee, 5/7).
ICOC officials said they would like to begin awarding "modest individual grants" by November, the AP/Times reports (AP/Washington Times, 5/7).
Los Angeles Times: CIRM funds should be "distributed using a fair, open and democratic process," a Times editorial states. "Unfortunately, that may not happen," because Proposition 71 "guarantees little public scrutiny," the editorial continues. According to the editorial, concerns could be "fixed with a pending law by [Ortiz] that would subject [CIRM] to disclosure laws similar to those governing ... other taxpayer-funded enterprises." Although Klein recently said that scientists would be reluctant to speak candidly about a colleague's research if they were "on the record," Ortiz's bill includes provisions "to enter closed session for a myriad of reasons," the editorial states. According to the editorial, "Klein and his colleagues should incorporate the essence" of Ortiz's proposal in CIRM's bylaws (Los Angeles Times, 5/9).
San Francisco Chronicle: "San Francisco serves as the focal point of a region that has the richest collection of research universities, bioscience companies and biomedical scientists in California," a Chronicle editorial states, adding that "placing [CIRM] in the Bay Area always made the most sense" (San Francisco Chronicle, 5/7).
NPR's "All Things Considered" on Friday reported on San Francisco's selection as CIRM headquarters. The segment includes comments from Klein and Arnold Kriegstein, director of the Developmental and Stem Cell Biology Program at UCSF (McChesney, "All Things Considered," NPR, 5/6). The complete segment is available online in RealPlayer.This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.