Stem Cell Board Voices Opposition to Proposed Revision of Proposition 71
Members of the Independent Citizens' Oversight Committee on Monday voiced opposition to a proposed amendment (SCA 13) to the state constitution that would revise provisions of Proposition 71, the San Diego Union-Tribune reports.
ICOC in a letter drafted at a meeting in San Jose said the amendment "would make it extremely difficult, if not impossible, for scientists to do their job, and it would delay critically needed medical therapies" (Somers, San Diego Union-Tribune, 5/24).
The proposed amendment, by Sens. Deborah Ortiz (D-Sacramento) and George Runner (R-Lancaster), would require the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine and ICOC to comply with conflict-of-interest provisions similar to those approved this year by NIH. The amendment would apply state open meeting and record laws to CIRM and ICOC. Under the amendment, research grants also would include provisions for possible state royalties (California Healthline, 5/23).
The amendment also would require treatments developed using funds from Proposition 71 to meet affordable drug pricing requirements.
To qualify for the next statewide ballot, 70% of the Legislature must vote to approve the amendment by June 30 (San Diego Union-Tribune, 5/24).
ICOC Chair Robert Klein said, "We don't understand where this issue came from that could destroy Proposition 71 and our ability to attract the best and the brightest scientists to our state" (Tempest, Los Angeles Times, 5/24). "The current language [of the amendment] is a disaster," Klein said.
Klein added, "We are being scheduled out of hearings [on the amendment], they're being scheduled so we specifically cannot attend." Klein said Ortiz is rushing the legislation through the Assembly to meet the June 30 deadline (Kleffman, Contra Costa Times, 5/24).
Klein is scheduled to meet with Ortiz on Wednesday. He said he hoped Ortiz will be willing to negotiate on the wording of her amendment, as she previously stated she would do.
"There is no sinister plot here," Ortiz, who supported Proposition 71, said, adding, "This legislation does not prevent [ICOC] from moving forward and issuing grants" (San Diego Union-Tribune, 5/24).
Ortiz said, "Rather than joining me and trying to find a way to put sound accountability measures into law, they have simply attempted to create the fear that accountability is equal to opposition." She added, "I don't think [their adopted rules] provide the level of assurance that California deserves" (Johnson, San Jose Mercury News, 5/24).
Ortiz said ICOC should consider the amendment an "opportunity" for cooperation. Ortiz said she has offered to release her appointment schedules to disprove Klein's statement that she has purposely scheduled meetings to keep ICOC members from attending (Hall, San Francisco Chronicle, 5/24).
Regarding open meeting guidelines, Ortiz said, "We have made it very clear that we want to maintain the integrity of peer review but at the same time assure the public that once a decision is made to fund one proposal, that they be required to justify how this particular proposal will benefit California."
CIRM acting President Zach Hall said, "I can say with assurance that SCA 13 will cripple our efforts, making it impossible to put California at the forefront of stem cell research" (Los Angeles Times, 5/24). "I must say I'm quite discouraged now," Hall added (Contra Costa Times, 5/24).
Paul Berg, a Stanford University geneticist, said that public oversight of the peer-review system "would cripple [CIRM's] ability to operate." He added, "Peer review cannot happen in an open meeting. I predict a substantial number of outstanding scientists would flee if that happened" (Los Angeles Times, 5/24).
ICOC members expressed concern about the amendment's conflict-of-interest provisions, which they said could discourage leading researchers from working with CIRM.
In addition, a CIRM analysis said provisions requiring affordable treatments for the poor and royalties for the state could discourage potential investors from becoming involved. Several ICOC members concurred (San Jose Mercury News, 5/24).
ICOC on Monday also voted to approve interim medical and ethical guidelines recommended last month by the National Academies of Sciences. The guidelines would ban reproductive cloning and require informed consent from women who donate eggs.
ICOC members said the committee will hold a series of public meetings in the coming months to consider revisions to the guidelines (Contra Costa Times, 5/24).