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Stem Cell Research Agency Gets OK To Expand

Former state Senate member Art Torres appeared yesterday at the strategic review hearing for the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine.

Torres, vice chair at CIRM, testified before the eight-member panel of experts convening this week to review the agency’s strategic plan.

Torres helped shepherd a bill through the legislative process this year that was recently signed by the governor.

The bill, SB 1064 by Elaine Alquist (D-Santa Clara) makes several changes to stem cell law in California, including allowing an expansion of the state agency beyond its current 50-person staff limit.

The bill also required a performance audit for the agency, mandated that any profits from patents developed by CIRM go straight into the state’s general fund and ensured that Medi-Cal patients get access to stem cell therapies in the future.

Indirectly, the agency also is affected by passage of AB 52  by Anthony Portantino (D-La Canada), because its grantees, such as University of California Berkeley, can now have access to a registry of umbilical cord blood. That blood contains stem cells, but not the embryonic stem cells that CIRM research uses. 

The new policy is a boon for CIRM’s grantees, but it’s the Alquist bill that augurs change at the stem cell agency, Torres said.

“When voters first passed Prop. 71 [late in 2004], the 50-person limit was important,” Torres said. The idea was to make sure administration didn’t overrun results, and so the original law established a 6% cap on administrative expenses, as well as the 50-person barrier. “But that’s not realistic in terms of the future,” Torres said.

The agency still must adhere to the 6% administration limit, which is much lower than other agencies, Torres said.

“I have presided over 19 state budgets,” he said, “and I have never seen a cap of 6% as an operating model. I am amazed this agency can do that.”

CIRM has a variety of programs, from funding stem cell research, to collaboration with many other nations on that research, to promoting diversity in science and math education. But mostly, as an international hub of stem cell research work, this California agency has a full plate of work to do.

“This is an extraordinary value to the people of California, and to the world,” Torres said of CIRM’s work. “This is certainly a model that other states should follow.”



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