Stem Cell Agency To Undergo Routine Audit by California Controller
On Tuesday, State Controller John Chiang ordered his office to audit the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine to ensure its process of awarding grants meets adequate transparency and oversight standards, the San Diego Union-Tribune reports (Somers, San Diego Union-Tribune, 11/28).
Voters approved the creation of the stem cell agency under Proposition 71, a 2004 ballot measure that authorized the sale of $3 billion in state bonds over 10 years for stem cell research (California Healthline, 10/4).
CIRM already has undergone two general audits that included an investigation of travel expenses and salaries. The controller's audit will review only the grant process (San Diego Union-Tribune, 11/28).
Chiang said, "Considering the [agency] has already made grants to 23 research agencies and the treasurer has sold $250 million in bonds for additional research, it is imperative that the research financing move forward in an ethical and transparent manner."
The audit will determine whether CIRM provides enough oversight after awarding grants, as well as a review of the institute's:
- Expenditure practices;
- Conflicts-of-interest policies;
- Performance milestones; and
- Compliance with state law (Solovitch, San Jose Business Journal, 11/27).
Chiang said he did not suspect any problems at the institute.
In related news, Chiang has directed the Fair Political Practices Commission to investigate whether a CIRM board member violated the agency's conflict-of-interest policy.
Last week, the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights filed a formal complaint alleging John Reed, CEO of the Burnham Institute, violated CIRM's conflict-of-interest rule when he wrote a letter asking the agency to reconsider its decision to deny a $638,000 grant to Burnham.
Robert Klein, CIRM chair, advised Reed to contest the decision. The foundation, along with an Oakland-based taxpayer group, has called on Reed and Klein to resign from their oversight positions at the stem cell agency.
Reed and Klein said they do not plan to resign (San Diego Union-Tribune, 11/28).
"The wisdom of California's stem cell research strategy shone through last week amid the news of an exciting potential breakthrough by scientists in Japan and Wisconsin," a San Jose Mercury News editorial states. "Any development that brings us closer to curing some of the world's most devastating diseases should be greeted with open arms -- but a possibility years in the future is no substitute for the work going on today thanks to the foresight of California voters," the editorial states.
"If the Japan and Wisconsin research continues to show promise, California could shift some of its dollars to that effort," the editorial states. "But it must stay committed to the work already under way here" in the form of embryonic stem cell research, according to the editorial (San Jose Mercury News, 11/27).