Sacramento, CA — In testimony to be delivered today before the Senate Health Committee, Consumer Watchdog (formerly The Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights) backed a bill in the California Senate intended to reform the state stem cell agency.
The bill, SB 1565, was introduced by Sen. Sheila Kuehl (D-23) and Sen. George Runner (R-17) and seeks to ensure California’s neediest residents will have access to therapies and drugs made possible by stem cell agency funding. The legislation also requires California’s Little Hoover Commission to study the agency’s conflict-ridden governance structure and report to the Legislature by July 1, 2009.
"The stem cell agency’s oversight board was designed with built-in conflicts of interest and it’s too big to be effective. They always have difficulties mustering a quorum," said John M. Simpson, Consumer Watchdog’s Stem Cell Project Director. "An outside analysis by unbiased observers can only be good. A hard-nosed look by the Little Hoover Commission is just what’s needed."
Consumer Watchdog said the provisions in the bill seeking to guarantee the state’s neediest residents have affordable access to the results of state funded research are commendable steps in the right direction, but in fact do not go far enough to protect the interests of all California residents who are paying for the $6 billion stem cell program.
"We need a provision that allows the State Attorney General to intervene if drugs or therapies funded by the stem cell agency are priced unreasonably," said Simpson. "We’ve seen too many cases where companies benefit from publicly funded research and then set prices at obscene levels. They act like socialists when seeking research funding but are greedy capitalists when there are profits on the table."
Consumer Watchdog said the leadership of the stem cell agency, the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), too frequently operates as if it were not a state agency. "SB 1565 is an important reminder that it is a public agency and that the Legislature should have a role in its oversight," said Simpson.
Proposition 71 that created CIRM provides that the act can be amended three years after the initiative was passed. Amendments require a super-majority of 70 percent. The initiative passed by 59 percent of Californians in 2004. Consumer Watchdog’s Stem Cell Oversight and Accountability Project is working to ensure that California’s landmark stem cell research program offers accessible and affordable cures and treatments to the taxpayers who have funded it. The program will sell $3 billion in bonds over a decade to fund stem cell research. Financing charges mean the project, the largest source of stem cell research funding in the world, will cost California taxpayers $6 billion.
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Consumer Watchdog is California’s leading non-profit and non-partisan consumer watchdog group. For more information visit us on the web at: http://www.ConsumerWatchdog.org.