It looks like the message is finally getting through to California's stem cell agency board. The board has a fundamental conflict of interest — 13 permanent slots are for representatives of the very institutions that receive 90 percent of the funding.
Consumer Watchdog has been pointing out this flaw since the passage of Proposition 71 which created the California Institute of Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) and the Independent Citizens Oversight Committee (ICOC) that oversees it.
The most recent organization to point this out and call for reform was the prestigious Institute of Medicine which had been hired by the stem cell agency for $700,000 to conduct a performance audit of the agency. The report said that “far too many board members represent organizations” that receive funding or benefit from the stem cell agency.
In the past under the leadership of then Chairman Bob Klein the response to outside critics was to circle the wagons. Chairman Jonathan Thomas is taking a different approach. He's offered substantial responses to the IOM report including the proposal that the 13 members representing the institutions that get most of the money abstain from voting on grants.
Part of what is driving the new approach is the realization that CIRM will need to find a new source of funding — possibly going back to the voters — if it is to continue. As Thomas told the board today, "If we don't have credibility, we won't have a chance of sustaining the agency."