Consumer Watchdog Urges Reduction In Stem Cell Board Size And Reforms In Agency’s Scientific Review

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Recommendations Come In Testimony  Requested By State’s Efficiency Unit, “Little Hoover Commission”
Sacramento, CA — The oversight board of California’s stem cell agency should be reduced to 15 and new members representing the general public interest must be included, Consumer Watchdog said today. In addition the agency’s grant review process must be opened to public scrutiny.

The recommendations came in testimony by Consumer Watchdog’s John Simpson, Director of the group’s Stem Cell Project, at the request of the Little Hoover Commission, the state’s efficiency unit.  Click here to read background on the Little Hoover Commission.

Simpson based his recommendations on observations and analysis of the stem cell agency since 2005 when the Consumer Watchdog project began. He called for a reduction in the size of the agency’s oversight board and easing of the board’s supermajority requirement.  The 29-member board’s size and its requirement for a 65 percent quorum have “hamstrung its effectiveness,” he said.

Noting that agency’s first president, Dr. Zach Hall, had described him as a “constructive critic,” Simpson told the commission he was offering his testimony in that spirit.

Consumer Watchdog believes a new 15-member board, the Independent Citizens Oversight Committee (ICOC), should include some members charged with representing the general public interest, unlike the current panel which represents universities, disease advocates and the life science industry. “Proposition 71 created a board with built-in conflicts of interest,” Simpson said. “Those representing the institutions that want the money ought not set the rules for how they get it.”

The stem cell agency, known as the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), must also reform its scientific review process by opening it to public scrutiny. Referring to the secret, closed-door “peer review” process, Simpson said, “ ‘Trust us, we’re scientists’ simply is not the foundation for good public policy.”

Other recommendations made in the Consumer Watchdog testimony included:

— CIRM should be incorporated into an existing state agency and be subject to normal accountability procedures of any state agency.

— Procedures to remove ICOC members should be adopted as well as sanctions that could be imposed if members are chronically absent.

— The ICOC should begin planning for a successor to the current chairman.

— The number of scientists on CIRM’s review panel with corporate experience should be increased.

— CIRM’s new Scientific Strategic Plan should reflect the current political, scientific and economic environment. Much has changed since Proposition 71 was passed in 2004.

— CIRM’s Intellectual Property Policy must be strengthened to include a provision allowing the state attorney general to intervene if there is unreasonable pricing of a drug, cure or treatment resulting from CIRM-funded research.

Click here to read Simpson’s written testimony.

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, formerly known as The Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, is a leading non-profit and non-partisan consumer advocacy group.

Consumer Watchdog
Consumer Watchdog
Providing an effective voice for American consumers in an era when special interests dominate public discourse, government and politics. Non-partisan.

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