State Appoints Salk Institute President to Committee Overseeing Distribution of Funds Under Proposition 71
Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante (D) on Wednesday announced the appointment of Richard Murphy, president of the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, to the governing board that will oversee the distribution of $3 billion for stem cell research approved under Proposition 71, the San Diego Union-Tribune reports (Lieberman, San Diego Union-Tribune, 11/11).
Voters last week approved Proposition 71, which calls for the state 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 laboratory projects. State analysts say the measure will cost a total of $6 billion, including interest (California Healthline, 11/10).
Murphy will be one of 29 representatives from state universities, research groups and companies on Proposition 71's Independent Citizen's Oversight Committee. Of the committee members, 24 will be appointed by the governor, lieutenant governor, state treasurer, controller, attorney general, Senate president pro tempore and speaker of the Assembly. The chancellors of the five University of California campuses with medical schools -- San Francisco, Davis, San Diego, Los Angeles and Irvine -- will appoint the remaining five members of the oversight committee.
Philip Pizzo, dean of Stanford University's medical school, is the only other member of the committee whose appointment has been announced.
Bustamante, who announced Murphy's appointment at the Salk Institute, said Proposition 71 will make the state "the hub, the center of the world in terms of this type of research."
Murphy, who has headed the Salk Institute for four years, said the committee will work hard to avoid any conflicts of interest. "Obviously, I should not be involved in any decisions that have to do with the Salk Institute," he said, adding, "The guideline should basically be the best science gets funded, no other guideline, and that's what I think this committee has to ensure."
All committee members must be appointed by Dec. 12 (San Diego Union-Tribune, 11/11). The committee will hold its first meeting Dec. 17.
Stem cell research experts on Tuesday discussed Proposition 71 at a conference of the California Healthcare Institute at Stanford, and said that the "most controversial aspects" of the program "will have strict oversight," the San Jose Mercury News reports.
Paul Berg, professor emeritus at Stanford and a Nobel Prize winner, said therapeutic cloning, or nuclear transfer, "may offend some people" because it involves the destruction and creation of embryos, but the procedure is central to stem cell research.
Berg said, "We need to do it. It is a moral issue not to do it. Nuclear transfer is at the heart of the science," adding, "But its supervision will be a transparent and ethical process and not leave itself open to the possibility of abuse."
Sen. Deborah Ortiz (D-Sacramento), who wrote a law addressing stem cell research in the state, said she would be monitoring the Proposition 71 program to ensure that the state recoups its investment though patents, royalties and other revenue, the Mercury News reports. She said, "The voters have placed an enormous amount of trust in us to implement this measure so that it includes public oversight, protects the state's investment and ensures protections of all research subjects." She added that the oversight committee "needs to go the extra mile in making its decisions open to the public and guard against conflicts of interest" (Krieger, San Jose Mercury News, 11/10).
Since Proposition 71 was approved, California has been preparing for "an influx of scientists and biotechnology firms" seeking to capitalize on the billions of dollars of state funding for stem cell research, the Washington Times reports.
Daniel Perry, president of the Coalition for the Advancement of Medical Research, said the measure "puts California ahead not only of other states and the federal government, but of the world." He added that other states might pass similar initiatives to prevent the loss of top professors and biotech companies. Perry said that the measure could "strengthen the hand of Republicans and Democrats in Congress" who are seeking to end the federal restrictions on stem cell research.
However, Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) said most states do not agree with California on the importance of stem cell research, adding that Proposition 71 would not have a strong influence on federal legislation, according to the Times.
William Hurlbut, consulting professor in the Program in Human Biology at Stanford University, said a "patchwork" of state policies funding stem cell research likely would force the federal government to address the issue (Fagan, Washington Times, 11/12).
U.S. News & World Report in its Nov. 15 edition examines Proposition 71, calling California "the country's foremost social guinea pig" and noting that the measure "is expected to make California the 'Silicon Valley' of the burgeoning biotechnology industry."
However, experts disagree on how long it will take for stem cell research to produce successful treatments.
Charles Jennings, executive director of the Harvard University Stem Cell Institute, said, "Realistically, I think it will be some time before the [stem cell] field comes to fruition," adding that the first stem cells were extracted from a human embryo just six years ago.
John Gearhart of the Institute for Cell Engineering at Johns Hopkins University said, "I am really encouraged that we will have something in a five-to-seven year period that we can apply to patients in need" (Streisand/Boyce, U.S. News & World Report, 11/15).