Board is Meeting in San Diego Today
When the state stem cell institute’s board meets today in San Diego, it will consider creating a formal process for scientists to appeal reviews of grant applications that may contain errors that wrongly prevent them from receiving funding.
The proposed policy is the board’s reaction to complaints it has received over the past several months and to concerns from board members that innocent mistakes could kill life-saving research.
“The bottom line is that we don’t want to miss out on funding something that is good science,” said Jeff Sheehy, a San Francisco AIDS activist and member of the institute’s board.
In January, scientists began to complain that the process for appealing the institute’s denial of a grant, even if there were factual errors made by people reviewing the grant request, was “scattershot.”
For instance, some scientists sent appeal letters to the board not knowing if they would be considered.
Others, such as Kenneth Woolcott of the San Diego company Cascade Life Sciences, attended a board meeting and spent their three minutes of allotted time for public comment to appeal their grant application. Woolcott did not change the board’s mind. But a patient advocacy group that attended the same meeting did persuade the board to provide funding.
Several scientists and Santa Monica-based Consumer Watchdog questioned whether this was the proper way for the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine to determine how it would allocate up to $3 billion in taxpayer money for stem cell research.
In July, officials from the institute told The San Diego Union-Tribune they had no plans to change their policy. At the time, the only official reason for an appeal of a grant review was if the applicant could show there was a conflict of interest by one of the out-of-state scientists who reviewed the application.
The institute’s grants schedule is rapid-fire. Applicants turned down for one grant can apply in one of the next rounds of grants, and use the critique of their first application to improve the next one, Robert Klein, chairman of the institute’s board, said several months ago.
But that was unacceptable to some scientists and some board members.
“All of us want to have a good process, and we don’t want to penalize someone who might have to wait a year and a half before they can come back and apply for another grant,” said board member Duane Roth, who runs Connect, a San Diego organization that helps startup technology companies.
The appeals process proposed by the institute’s executive committee attempts to “create some order from something that could become disorderly and unreasonable,” said Alan Trounson, the institute’s president.
The policy requires scientists to send the board a brief appeal letter – no more than three pages is recommended – at least five days before the meeting at which it would vote upon whether to fund that particular grant.
Board members have full discretion on whether to consider a petition for appeal. If a board member requests the entire board consider an appeal, all members would receive an analysis prepared by the institute’s staff scientists.
Grant applicants might still decide to make a public appeal during board meetings.
“The reality is that we are a public agency and people have the right to write letters to us and come to speak with us at our meetings about any issue that is before us,” Sheehy said.