Last week, officials from the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine defended proposals for reducing potential conflicts of interest within the agency, U-T San Diego reports (Fikes, U-T San Diego, 3/9).
In 2004, California voters approved Proposition 71, which created CIRM. The agency was launched to advance development of stem cell-based disease treatments.
Prop. 71 required that CIRM's oversight board -- the Independent Citizens' Oversight Committee -- be composed mostly of representatives from:
- Biotechnology companies;
- Patient advocacy groups; and
- Research centers.
Since 2004, CIRM has allocated about $1.7 billion to 68 institutions to support advances in stem cell research and regenerative medicine.
In December 2012, IOM released a report stating that CIRM's original structure was useful for launching the initiative, but its overly centralized nature now makes it vulnerable to conflicts of interest.
IOM said "far too many" CIRM board members are from organizations that could benefit from the research funds that the agency distributes, and therefore, CIRM should be restructured.
Details of CIRM's Proposed Guidelines
In January, CIRM proposed guidelines to reduce potential conflicts of interest.
The proposed guidelines call for:
- Voluntary abstention from voting on grants for the 13 members of the 29-member oversight committee who represent CIRM-funded research institutions;
- Restrictions on appeals made directly to the oversight committee by those denied funding; and
- More participation from biomedical companies to speed the transfer of research to clinical use.
CIRM said that it will decide this month whether to formally adopt the proposals.
Harold Shapiro -- chair of the IOM committee that evaluated the agency -- said that the proposed guidelines fall short of IOM recommendations (California Healthline, 2/1).
Comments From CIRM, Others
At a meeting with U-T San Diego's editorial board, Jonathan Thomas -- CIRM chair -- said the proposed guidelines are the fastest way to address potential conflicts of interest at the agency because they can be implemented by CIRM's oversight committee on its own authority.
Thomas said that efforts to make changes through legislative action would take much longer.
In addition, Thomas and Larry Goldstein -- a CIRM-funded UC-San Diego stem cell researcher -- called on the media to focus on the scientific results of research funded by CIRM, which they said is truer measure of the agency's performance than potential conflicts of interest.
Chris Reed -- an editorial writer for U-T San Diego -- responded that the public has a legitimate interest in problems within the organization's structure when public money is being spent (U-T San Diego, 3/9).