Ortiz Wins Approval To Create Stem Cell Oversight Subcommittee
Sen. Deborah Ortiz (D-Sacramento) on Friday won legislative approval to create a Stem Cell Research Oversight subcommittee within the Senate Health Committee in an effort to monitor stem cell research funded by Proposition 71, the San Jose Mercury News reports (Krieger, San Jose Mercury News, 1/29).
Proposition 71, approved in November 2004 by voters, calls for California to issue bonds to raise an average of $295 million annually over a decade to promote stem cell research and provide funds for a new stem cell research center, as well as grants and loans for lab projects (California Healthline, 12/6/04).
Ortiz has said that Proposition 71 has gaps in areas such as public accountability and ethics, the San Francisco Chronicle reports.
Ortiz said she wants to create "a larger forum" for the directors of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine to address public concern about Proposition 71 and explain their actions (Hall, San Francisco Chronicle, 1/29).
In addition, Ortiz is asking that members of the groups that make recommendations on grants and loans disclose financial information and is trying to strengthen patient protection and informed consent for those who donate embryos or eggs (San Jose Mercury News, 1/29). The first meeting will be held in late February or early March.
Ortiz also said she would continue to push for legislative amendments to Proposition 71 (San Francisco Chronicle, 1/29). Ortiz seeks to enact provisions to guarantee that the state recoup its investment in stem cell research, as well as money to pay interest on the bonds issued to finance the program. She also proposes changing the measure to require the state auditor to review patent-sharing agreements and to allow the public to evaluate whether the program protects the state's interests.
She said the power to negotiate for the state's share of patent rights should not be left to the chair and vice chair of the Independent Citizen's Oversight Committee, which was formed by Proposition 71 to create ethical and financial operating standards, as the measure currently dictates.
The oversight committee's standards are not required to conform to federal and state law, according to the measure. Language included in Proposition 71 also forbids the Legislature from amending its terms for three years. After three years, any changes must be approved by 70% of both chambers and the governor (California Healthline, 12/6/04).
Robert Klein, chair of the stem cell institute, previously said Ortiz's bill could harm the research by creating instability in the program's legal framework, but his spokesperson on Friday said, "We certainly welcome her interest. We obviously look forward to working collaboratively with her."
Ortiz said, "I have been a partner in this," adding that she has no hostile intentions in creating the legislation or subcommittee (San Francisco Chronicle, 1/29).
In related news, Tom Zeidner, a senior project manager with Sacramento's economic development department, said the city would offer rent for space at no cost in an office building in Old Sacramento to house the stem cell institute. Although the committee in charge of the stem cell program originally said consideration for its location would be limited to San Diego, the Bay Area and Los Angeles, now "all geographic locations will be considered," according to Klein spokesperson Fiona Hutton.
Bob Burris, deputy director of the Sacramento Area Commerce and Trade Organization, said the city has a reasonable chance to attract the institute because of the presence of University of California-Davis medical research facilities, the area's "emerging life sciences sector" and because it is the state's Capital. He said the stem cell institution should have "a strong communication link with the state" (Kasler, Sacramento Bee, 1/27).
The University of California-Merced also plans to "make its own claim" to "become the epicenter of California's stem cell research," the Modesto Bee reports.
According to Keith Alley, the school's vice chancellor for research, university faculty members already are conducting stem cell research, and labs at the Castle Air Force Base are equipped to conduct the research. He added that the campus is prepared to expand its stem cell research. However, Alley said it is more important for the university to receive funding for stem cell research through the proposition than to be the institute's headquarters.
The CIRM committee is expected to make a decision in April on the location of the facility (Ahumada, Modesto Bee, 1/31).
Promoters of Proposition 71 on Monday reported that the Yes On 71 campaign is almost $6.5 million in debt, the Los Angeles Times reports.
Venture capitalist John Doerr and his wife, Ann Doerr, collectively lent the campaign $1 million in the days leading up to the November 2004 election, according to the Times. In addition, Klein gave or lent the Yes campaign $2.1 million.
A spokesperson for the campaign said proponents of the measure intend to raise money to pay back the Doerrs, vendors who worked for the campaign and perhaps Klein. The spokesperson "rais[ed] the possibility that entities and individuals seeking stem cell research money could make donations that would help Klein recoup some of the $1 million loan," the Times reports (Morain, Los Angeles Times, 2/1).