Critics of California's new stem cell agency support Lee-Halpern petition
Center for Genetics and Society, Pro-Choice Alliance for Responsible Research agree with petition of former US Assistant Secretary for Health, public interest attorney
Prominent critics of California's new stem cell agency have
lent their support to a petition filed with the California Institute
for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) by Philip Lee, former federal
Assistant Secretary for Health, and public interest attorney
Charles Halpern. Under California's Administrative Procedures
Act, CIRM is required to respond within 30 days.
"With these concerns being expressed by people as prominent
as Dr. Lee is in public health, and as Mr. Halpern is in public-interest
law, it's a sign that the situation is very serious," said
Marcy Darnovsky, associate executive director of the Center
for Genetics and Society. "Despite repeated promises of
high standards, the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine
still acts as if it were a private enterprise, rather than a
public agency-one that California's citizens have entrusted
with a great deal of hope and a large sum of money. CIRM's leadership
needs to take concrete steps to make clear that it puts the
public's interest above market considerations."
The petition makes specific recommendations regarding conflict
of interest standards, compensation and hiring, advisory groups,
and grants, and calls on the Independent Citizens' Oversight
Committee (ICOC), CIRM's governing body, to hold hearings on
Susan Fogel, coordinator of the Pro-Choice Alliance for Responsible
Research, notes, "Under Lee and Halpern's recommendations,
which are based on new guidelines at the National Institutes
of Health, Edward Penhoet must either place his biotechnology
investments in a blind trust or resign from his position on
the ICOC. We cannot allow California officials to be held to
a lesser standard."
Penhoet is the vice-chair of the ICOC. He is a paid partner
at a venture capital firm with a major biotechnology portfolio,
sits on the board of three biotechnology corporations, and holds
at least $3 million of stock in biotechnology companies.
The critics are also troubled by the initial hiring process
at CIRM, and by recent news that ICOC Chair Robert Klein will
be involved with continuing fundraising for lobbying purposes.
"Recruiting staff directly from the `Yes on 71' campaign
to work at CIRM, without considering other candidates, is not
responsible practice for a public agency," notes Jesse
Reynolds, program director at the Center for Genetics and Society.
"Nor should Robert Klein be getting ready to issue grants
as a state official while he's raising more money to lobby Congress
about cloning legislation."
Created after supporters spent over $30 million to pass Proposition
71 in November, CIRM will issue $3 billion in grants for embryonic
stem cell and other biomedical research. It is governed by a
twenty-nine member body, the ICOC. It has shared office space
and staff with the `Yes on 71' campaign, Klein's private real
estate company, and a stem cell advocacy organization he founded.
According to news articles, Klein, now a state official, will
be raising private money to repay the `Yes on 71' campaign debts
and to lobby Congress on issues related to stem cell research.
The Center for Genetics and Society is a public interest advocacy
organization that supports the responsible use and governance
of new biotechnologies such as embryonic stem cell research.
It was a member of the Pro-Choice Alliance Against Proposition
Pro-Choice Alliance for Responsible Research is a coalition
of advocates, scientists, health professionals and academics
working to promote responsible research in the fields of genetics
and reproduction, while promoting a perspective that promotes
the petition ]