Stem Cell Committee Approves Conflict-of-Interest, Openness Rules
The Independent Citizens' Oversight Committee on Tuesday voted in favor of requiring the stem cell agency's review panels, also known as working groups, to open some meetings to the public, the Sacramento Bee reports. Working groups are exempt from the provision at certain times, such as when they consider grants and donations.
In addition, working group members will be required to file financial disclosure statements. However, the new rule "stop[s] short" of other agencies' regulations because the disclosure statements will only be available to California Institute for Regenerative Medicine staff and auditors, according to the Bee.
ICOC also voted to disclose the nature of grant applications and the diseases proposed research projects would address. However, ICOC will not be required to disclose the names of researchers and institutes that are not awarded funding.
These new rules were made "in response" to criticism about ICOC's conflict-of-interest and public openness rules, the Bee reports.
ICOC also has asked its staff to draft a policy defining any financial holdings for ICOC members that would be required to be placed in a blind trust. ICOC at its Aug. 5 meeting in San Diego is scheduled to consider this provision.
ICOC voted to require board approval for personal service contracts over $100,000, after ICOC members "sparred for the first time" during the meeting over how the agency is governed, the Bee reports. The board also voted to create a new governance subcommittee to exercise more control over the agency.
ICOC member Jeff Sheehy said he was "a little appalled" that the agency is spending about $30,000 monthly for public relations services. ICOC members also said they had not had much involvement in determining how CIRM has spent $2.1 million or in awarding $1.18 million in agency contracts (Mecoy, Sacramento Bee, 7/13).
Also at the ICOC meeting, members learned that the state treasurer's office is preparing to sell $200 million in high-risk bond anticipation notes to fund the institute's first grants, the San Diego Union-Tribune reports. The state cannot begin selling $300 million in annual bonds for CIRM provided under Proposition 71 until lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of the arrangement are settled.
The state plans to sell bond anticipation notes to investors "willing to risk that the institute will win the legal challenges," according to the Union-Tribune. The state then could repay the investors with bonds provided under Proposition 71.
The anticipation notes, after administrative costs, will provide about $188.4 million to CIRM. A $3 million loan from the state and a $5 million donation from the Dolby Foundation to date funded CIRM operations (Somers, San Diego Union-Tribune, 7/13).
Summaries of recent editorials in California newspapers addressing transparency issues at CIRM appear below.
Fresno Bee: ICOC Chair Robert Klein and CIRM Interim President Zach Hall's "claim that top scientists will refuse to 'volunteer' for the institute's grant review panel ... if they are forced to publicly disclose their potential conflicts" is "a bunch of malarkey," a Fresno Bee editorial states. CIRM watchdog Susan Fogel at a recent subcommittee meeting "made a shambles" of Klein and Hall's argument that "grant reviewers are just advisers and that all final grant decisions will be made" by ICOC, noting that the "culling process turns the grant reviewers into decision-makers who will influence how billions of dollars will be spent," the editorial states (Fresno Bee, 7/12).
- Sacramento Bee: Victor Marrow, "who helps run a continuing medical education program for the prestigious Johns Hopkins School of Medicine," said faculty scientists there have been required to disclose stock holdings and consulting relationships for at least 10 years, a Sacramento Bee editorial states. According to the editorial, "taxpayer and state lawmakers need to ask" whether CIRM leaders "want to give certain companies an inside track on grants," and if not, "why aren't they insisting on transparency?" (Sacramento Bee, 7/12).