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California's Stem Cell Research Program: An Update

Genetic Crossroads
December 14th, 2006

CIRM President Zach Hall
CIRM President Zach Hall

The last month has witnessed a wide variety of developments at California's stem cell research program:

Pushback on affordability of any successful stem cell treatments. Last week, the governing board of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) met in Irvine. It approved the latest iteration of its intellectual property policy for nonprofit organizations, and the first version of its policy for grants and loans to for-profit corporations. While there are some provisions for any resulting state-subsidized products to be more affordable, those in the terms for non-profits were recently watered down after pressure from the biomedical and healthcare lobby. These policies are interim, awaiting further public comment and approval by the state government.

Opening the cash flow. CIRM now has $181 million to spend: $150 million from a loan authorized by Governor Schwarzenegger, and $31 million from the sale of a second round of short-term "bond anticipation notes," many of which were purchased by individuals and organizations that contributed to the campaign for Proposition 71.

Grantees are selected. CIRM's research grants working group reviewed applications for the second round of grants. The $24 million in this round will be the first money allocated for actual research, and is scheduled to be approved by the institute's governing board in February. An earlier set of training grants was awarded in September 2005.

CIRM still refusing to reveal conflicts of interest. The members of CIRM's grants working group are still not required to publicly disclose their personal interests, some of which may constitute conflicts of interest. The only concession CIRM has made on this contested point is to list the members who recused themselves.

CIRM president resigns. CIRM President Zach Hall announced that he will soon be stepping down. Many speculated that difficulties with CIRM Chair Robert Klein may have played a role in Hall's decision, but he described it as being prompted by "almost entirely personal reasons."

California legislature loses a key voice for public interest in stem cell research. The new California Senate convened without Deborah Ortiz, who was both a frequent critic of CIRM since its inception and a supporter of the California ballot initiative that established it. Robert Klein, chair of CIRM's governing board, labeled Ortiz an "ongoing threat" in a letter he released earlier this year. But many credit Ortiz for her early support of stem cell research and for her efforts in recent years to ensure that CIRM operates in the public interest.


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