Stem Cell Oversight Committee Approves Interim Conflict-of-Interest Rules
The California stem cell agency's oversight board, facing "fire for potential conflicts of interest," on Thursday voted to restrict the investments of California Institute for Regenerative Medicine employees and to prohibit board members from receiving state funds for research, the Sacramento Bee reports.
The interim rules require CIRM employees to relinquish or place in a blind trust any holdings in companies that apply for Proposition 71 funding or spend more than 5% of their research budgets on stem cell therapy.
Rules for members of the Independent Citizens' Oversight Committee -- the oversight board -- "were aimed at preventing them from personally profiting as principal investigators or paid staff on any state-funded grants, loans or contracts for stem cell research," the Bee reports. ICOC also said its members must recuse themselves from decisions that could financially benefit them or their employers.
The 10 ICOC members who have substantial stock holdings in biotechnology companies or who serve on the boards of biotech firms will not be required to relinquish their interests.
Regulations for working group members who review scientific applications "seek to limit conflicts ... but don't require [them] to file the state forms the board and many state employees must file that disclose their major financial holdings," the Bee reports. Working group members are to disclose financial conflicts and "avoid voting on matters that could financially benefit them, their close relatives or their employers" according to the Bee.
ICOC voted to maintain privacy at working group meetings in order to protect scientists' intellectual property and reputations. Proposition 71 exempted working groups from California's open meetings laws.
Even though restrictions for ICOC members were "more limited" than the regulations for CIRM employees, board members "fretted that the rules would limit collaboration among scientists because the committee is composed of several leading academics," the Bee reports.
ICOC member Jeff Sheehy said, "We can be squeaky clean, ... (but) if 10 years from now, no one is cured, we are all going to be called crooks."
However, board member Francisco Prieto, a Sacramento physician, said it was important for ICOC to "draw very clear lines ... that we are in no way going to benefit" from Proposition 71.
ICOC also "took the first step" toward awarding grants by voting to give its finance committee the power to issue up to $200 million in bonds, the Bee reports. The money will go toward stem cell research and CIRM's operations.
ICOC Chair Robert Klein said a bond validation process could resolve legal disputes that threaten to stop ICOC from selling bonds and funding stem cell research. Klein said an Alameda County lawsuit filed this week and other suits against Proposition 71 could be consolidated in one court and resolved quickly.
However, ICOC member Joan Samuelson said she was concerned that legal challenges could last for up to two years and delay progress (Mecoy, Sacramento Bee, 4/8).