Other States Observing Implementation of California Stem Cell Initiative
California's "experiment" in approving Proposition 71 to fund stem cell research "is being watched closely by other states" considering public funding for such research, the Washington Post reports. Maryland recently joined Florida, New Jersey, New York and Wisconsin on the list of states considering public funding for stem cell research.
The California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, which Proposition 71 created, has been "tainted" by conflict-of-interest concerns and questions over the "pell-mell pace" organizers have set to get the program running, according to the Post. Other criticism has focused on the exemption of advisory working groups from state government access rules.
Terry Francke -- general counsel for Californians Aware, an open-government advocacy group -- said, "If you don't know what people are saying in the meetings, then you have no way of telling whether their declared interests are playing an undue role and influence in what they are recommending."
CIRM spokesperson Fiona Hutton said, "I don't think there has been any rush to judgment on any front thus far," adding, "The board is keeping the challenges that patients have day in and day out in their minds, but they are taking logical, prudent steps" (Eunjung Cha, Washington Post, 2/13).
In related news, sources close to CIRM said Zach Hall, medical-research dean at the University of Southern California, is the "top choice" for interim president of CIRM, although he "is not expected to become the permanent chief executive," the San Francisco Chronicle reports. The interim president will guide policies "likely to set the tone for years to come," according to the Chronicle.
Unlike Klein, Hall has extensive scientific experience. He left his position at the University of California-San Francisco as head of neurobiology and chair of the physiology department in 1994 to direct NIH's National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. He returned to UCSF in 1998, where he assisted the development of the university's Mission Bay campus.
Keith Yamamoto, executive vice dean at UCSF, said, "Zach has all the tools needed to do well in that position."
Melissa Carpenter, principal investigator at the Robarts Research Institute in Canada, also was named by CIRM sources as a leading candidate to become interim president.
CIRM spokesperson Hutton said, "[T]he board is currently considering a short list of candidates ... and expects to make a final decision on March 1," the date of the next scheduled meeting of CIRM's governing body, the Independent Citizens Oversight Committee (Hall, San Francisco Chronicle, 2/11).
California Research and Cures Coalition, the campaign committee that backed Proposition 71, intends to use "its considerable fundraising prowess" to fight a federal ban on all forms of human cloning, former committee Chair Robert Klein said last week, the AP/San Diego Union-Tribune reports. The committee, which spent $35 million in 2004 to promote Proposition 71, plans to raise $1 million to fight legislation sponsored by Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) that would ban cloning of human embryos for any reason, including medical research, Klein said.
Brownback's bill could "directly threaten" Proposition 71, according to the AP/Union-Tribune.
Klein said the campaign committee will work in conjunction with a Washington, D.C.-based coalition of not-for-profit organizations supporting embryonic stem cell research.
Larry Soler -- chief lobbyist for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, a member organization of the coalition fighting the bill -- said, "This is clearly going to be a major battle this year."
The California committee will have to pay off a $1.3 million debt before fund raising for the effort to fight the federal ban begins, according to Don Reed, who is on the committee's board (Elias, AP/San Diego Union-Tribune, 2/9).
"We were encouraged by the willingness of Klein and [ICOC members David] Kessler and [David Serrano] Sewell to respond to concerns about Prop. 71's implementation," a Chronicle editorial states, referring to a Wednesday meeting between ICOC members and the Chronicle editorial board.
The ICOC members said the organization would be "as open as possible to public input and scrutiny," but they "argued cogently" that participating scientists "need some assurance that their work would not be subject to shifting political winds, either in Washington or Sacramento," the editorial continues.
"Because the initiative gives the ICOC so much autonomy," the editorial concludes, "the burden will be on [the ICOC] to implement the program in a manner consistent with its status as a major taxpayer-bankrolled project" (San Francisco Chronicle, 2/10).