(FTCR) today welcomed the introduction of 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,
FTCR’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."
FTCR 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."
FTCR 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. FTCR’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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The Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights is California’s
leading non-profit and non-partisan consumer watchdog group. For more
information visit us on the web at: www.ConsumerWatchdog.org.