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Archive for June, 2009

THE “DO-OVER” COMMISSION: California Stem Cell Program to be Re-written?

In the very near future, perhaps today, the Little Hoover Commission is going to release a catalog of “improvements” to the California stem cell program, of which they appear to know very little. Unfortunately, those recommendations have a chance of becoming law.

The hard work of years may be unraveled in this “Do-over” of our stem cell program.

But first, let me pose a seemingly unrelated question.

I know nothing about real estate, except I think houses cost too much. So, based on the fact that I have a complaint, (justified or not) should I be put in charge of making a new law on how to run the housing market?

Why not? The Little Hoover Commission (LHC) gets to do exactly that to the California stem cell program. The LHC has recently been “studying” the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine. I put the word “studying” in quotes because to the best of my knowledge two board members and one staff member attended one and perhaps two meetings of the Committee they wish to utterly change. This tiny subcommittee did appear to have read the complaints of the program’s critics; those they know well. But the positive side, the tremendous achievements of the California program, brought about by the combined intelligence of the board and chairperson, in addition to the dedicated staff? That seems to have escaped the LHC’s notice.

Wednesday and Thursday, June 24th and 25th, I drove to Sacramento, enduring four hours of traffic jam each day, to find out the plans for this panel of non-experts and our beautiful stem cell research funding program.

Interestingly, for a group dedicated to good government and transparency, the Little Hoover Commission has kept its draft report determinedly secret.

The report has gone through two drafts, and the public has not been shown either one.

What a difference from the Institution they are studying! Our stem cell program does virtually everything out in the open. At meetings, the public can give comments before the meeting, during the meeting, after the meeting—and almost all of its documents are public. When you attend, there are always stacks of documents waiting for you. Those same documents (first draft, second draft, whatever) are also available on line, at http://www.cirm.ca.gov.

At Little Hoover? Just the opposite. We the public were not allowed to see the document in question until it is too late to do anything about it, after they are through with it.

So, first we are denied information, the foundation of democracy.

Citizen input? That is only allowed—before the meeting is underway.

How is a person supposed to know what to respond to, at the beginning of the meeting, especially if the most important information is kept secret?

But I spoke anyway! From listening to their public conversations, I knew enough to recognize a serious threat to our program.

I made the point that California’s stem cell program was important to the nation, and that the patient advocacy community would of course defend it. I mentioned my paralyzed son, of course, and the Roman Reed law, which provided initial funding for the spinal cord treatment which goes to human trials this year.

And I even talked about football. I don’t like football much anymore, after what it did to my son. But he loves it still, and our team was the 49’ers.

So I asked the committee to remember when the San Francisco 49’ers ruled, winning four Super Bowls, led by Joe Montana, and Steve Young.

Would the LHC suggest we take away the world’s best football team and replace them with a farm team from somewhere?

That is what the LHC intends to do to the California stem cell program—take out the winning’est team there is.

They want to remove all 29 members of our board, and replace them with 15 political appointees—11 from the Governor, 2 from business and 2 from “independent scientists”.

This would be a completely politicized board.

What if a Governor did not approve of stem cell research? He could appoint 11 enemies of the research, and they could do whatever they wanted, even transferring our funds somewhere else.

How much discussion did they give such huge questions? Almost none.

Only one point was raised: of their proposed half-committee, how many members would it take to make a quorum, the minimum number of board members needed to pass a vote.? They argued about this for ten minutes—and then one of them said, “Well, how do they do it now?” Not a single commissioner could answer.

They did not know. They wanted to change the entire governing board (the ICOC or Independent Citizens Oversight Committee) and they did not even know how it worked. (The answer is 2/3 of eligible participants.) But they did not know.

The only bright spot in the proceedings came when Senator Dean Flores, (to my knowledge the only active legislator on the panel) spoke up.

He said: “If we don’t know how the governing board works, why are we in such a hurry to change it?”

“Well, because it is too big,” a board member said.

“And are you saying that big is bad?”

“Well, generally a big board is more for fundraising than decision-making,,,”

“And what do you base that on? Is there some study you can site, or is that just a value judgment on your part?”

“Well, it is just general knowledge….”

“Oh, like the Board of Regents for the UC college system, that’s 26 members? Are they too big?”

“Well, we’re not talking about them!”

Unfortunately,Senator Flores, due to the budget crisis, could only stay a few minutes.

When he left, the Commission seemed to recover from being flustered, and went on to endorse the report.

When I get the report, I will write about it.

If it becomes legislation I will naturally oppose it with every fiber of my being.

The CIRM is one of the great accomplishments of our time, and of course we will not let it sink. We will organize, local, state, and national organizations, and we will stand up for America’s greatest stem cell program. (Do I exaggerate? Last year, the CIRM provided seven times as much money for early stem cell research as the National Institutes of Health. No other program even comes close. Of course we will defend it.)

But there was one priceless moment which for me summed up the day.

The committee was served lunch. Nothing luxurious: a good sandwich, a pack of what looked like potato chips, an apple, a cookie—but as they ate, the meeting continued, because the room had to be vacated shortly.

And one board member raised her hand and said:

“Not a criticism, but I wish next time we could have more time to study the information. Five minutes and a sandwich just is not enough time, not for something so important.”

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TRAINED WORKERS NEEDED FOR NEW STEM CELL JOBS: California Senate Bill 471: (Romero/Steinberg) the Stem Cell and Biotechnology Education and Workforce Development Act of 2009.

by Don C. Reed

Dear Stem Cell Research Supporter:

Please support California Senate Bill 471, offered by Senators Gloria Romero and Darrel Steinberg. If approved, this wonderful bill will bring stem cell research information into the California classroom.

Why does this matter?

First, the field of life science, like the computer industry, needs people who know what is going on, who really understand the work because they have been exposed to it early. I will never be completely comfortable with a computer, although I use one every day—because I started too late, not even touching one till I was forty. My three grandsons and one grand-daughter, on the other hand, were practically born with computers in the crib. Their world will be larger than mine, because they have a natural familiarity with this incredible tool.

Second, there are still too many misconceptions about stem cell research; these can only be countered by the systematic presentation of fact.

How will it work?

Below is the one-page version of the proposed law. (For those who want a fuller explanation, I have included the official analysis, including supporters and opposition, at the bottom of the article.)

When you see the word CIRM, by the way, that is the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine: our California stem cell research program.

ONE-PAGE VERSION OF SB 471

“Senate Bill 471, The California Stem Cell and Biotechnology Education and Workforce Development Act of 2009.

“… requires the California Department of Education—

in consultation with the CIRM and representatives of the biotechnology industry—

to promote stem cell and biotechnology education and workforce development in existing programs, such as the California Partnership Academies, the California Career Resource Network, multiple pathways, and other existing programs.

It also requires that stem cell biology be included in the Science Framework that specifies what is taught in the science classroom.

The bill requests the University of California, in consultation with CIRM, to include stem cell and biotechnology information in the California State Summer School for Mathematics and Science, as specified.

The bill requests that the Independent Citizens Oversight Committee…give consideration to education and workforce development when allocating funds for stem cell research and facilities.”

END

That is SB 471.

Now. May I ask a favor?

It would be important if you would write a short letter, (I will help) and send it to the members of the Education committee.

It’s easy. First, here is my sample letter, (feel free to borrow language), next is the “clickable” email addresses of the people who need to hear from you. Just write your letter, select it, cut and paste. (The committee we want to influence right now is the Assembly Education committee.)

SAVE your letter, please. In about ten days we will want to send it again to the chair of a different committee.

A close fight is expected on this bill: your involvement might be crucial.

The cost to California taxpayers? $65 thousand. Hardly anything, in government funding terms. But vital.

Here is a sample letter.

Re: Senate Bill 471: support. (it is important to put this, so they can sort and stack the letters they receive.)

Dear __________(insert name of Representative)

I support the California stem cell research program. (State your reason for supporting the research; for example, my son Roman is paralyzed, and my sister Barbara has cancer.)

But no amount of research means anything, until it becomes useful therapies, products and treatments—and that means a trained workforce.

The biomedical industry needs educated young men and women to fill the jobs that will bring cure within the reach of California, America, and the world. They need the jobs, California needs the revenues, and the world needs cure.

SB 471 is a necessary and positive piece of legislation. It deserves the support of California educators and young people, of scientists and advocates, and most of all the families of those who suffer: we who seek relief from chronic disease and disability.

SB 471’s costs are miniscule; its benefits immeasurable.

Please vote yes on Senate Bill 471: the California Stem Cell and Biotechnology Education and Workforce Development Act of 2009.

Thank you,

Your Name

Here is the committee: all you have to do is type your letter, (alter and use mine, if you like, you could do it right now) cut and paste, click and send.

If you only have time to do one, make it to the chair. Do them all if you can.

If you live in California, wonderful. But even if you reside in a different state, still these committee members need to hear from you.

Education Committee:

Julia Brownley – Chair
Dem-41 (916) 319-2041 Assemblymember.Brownley@assembly.ca.gov

Brian Nestande – Vice Chair
Rep-64 (916) 319-2064 Assemblymember.Nestande@assembly.ca.gov

Tom Ammiano
Dem-13 (916) 319-2013 Assemblymember.Ammiano@assembly.ca.gov

Juan Arambula
Dem-31 (916) 319-2031 Assemblymember.arambula@assembly.ca.gov

Joan Buchanan
Dem-15 (916) 319-2015 Assemblymember.Buchanan@assembly.ca.gov

Wilmer Amina Carter
Dem-62 (916) 319-2062 Assemblymember.Carter@assembly.ca.gov

Mike Eng
Dem-49 (916) 319-2049 Assemblymember.Eng@asm.ca.gov

Martin Garrick
Rep-74 (916) 319-2074 Assemblymember.Garrick@assembly.ca.gov

Jeff Miller
Rep-71 (916) 319-2071 Assemblymember.Miller@assembly.ca.gov

Jose Solorio
Dem-69 (916) 319-2069 Assemblymember.solorio@assembly.ca.gov

Tom Torlakson
Dem-11 (916) 319-2011 Assemblymember.Torlakson@assembly.ca.gov

JULY 8 is the official hearing for the bill before the Education Committee—want to attend? Drop a line to me at stemcellbattles@aol.com.

Now, here is the official analysis, the support and opposition, and a couple paragraphs of my answer to the opposition’s argument.

Analysis: Prop 71 (established CIRM and ICOC governing board)…

Existing law provides for the establishment and maintenance of the California Subject Matter Projects (CSMP) for the purpose of developing and enhancing teachers’ subject matter knowledge and instructional strategies in order to improve student learning and academic performance in core content areas, including science.

Existing law provides for the operation of the California State Summer School for Mathematics and Science (COSMOS) through the UC. The 2009-2010 Budget Act provided $1.897 million for this program.

In March, 2009, the State Board of Education (SBE) unanimously adopted a proposal to include stem cell science in the science curriculum and include the content in the update of the 2010 Science Framework.

This bill:

1. Requires the Dept. of Ed. (DOE), in consultation with the CIRM and representatives of the biotechnology industry, to promote stem cell and biotechnology education and workforce development in its existing programs such as the California Partnership Academies, the California Resource Network, regional science resource centers, the K-12 High Speed Network, and other specific entities.

2. Requires the DOE to post on its internet web site, information and links about:
A. Biotechnology education programs as specified.
B. The CIRM education initiatives and related stem cell education and workforce development programs.

3. Requests the UC Regents to consult with CIRM and representatives of the biotechnology industry in developing curriculum for COSMOS.

4. Requires the SBE to incorporate stem cell science curriculum content into the next revision of the Science Curriculum Framework.

5. Requests the ICOC, when allocating funds for stem cell research and facilities, to consider education and workforce development in addition to other criteria with the goal of furthering this article.

6. States findings and declarations of the Legislature relating to stem cell research and science, and the need for all education, policymakers and institutions of public education, and all relevant public agencies and industry organizations to collaborate and make it a priority to increase stem cell and biotechnology education and workforce development.

…to the extent that industry, research institutions, and schools can work together to address the education and training necessary to fill positions in the stem cell field, this bill could enable California to maintain the momentum initiated through Proposition 71, and build a regenerative medicine infrastructure that will generate jobs, contribute to the economy, and help California maintain a competitive edge in this emerging field of medicine.

Fiscal effect: $65,000

Support: (verified 5/29/09) BioCom, California Healthcare Institute, California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, California State University, Don Reed, Californians for Cures, Student Society for Stem Cell Research, University of California

Opposition: (verified 5/29/09) California Catholic Conference

Arguments in support: The author’s office states the bill will have a positive fiscal effect by (1) making good on the significant public investment made by the people of California with approval of Prop 71 of 2004, which authorized
$3 billion in state bond funds for stem cell research and facilities.

The followup step of aligning public education with this public funding of stem cell research is necessary to turn this important research into therapies and cures and for California to realize the economic benefits of stem cell research as promised in the ballot information on Prop. 71; and

(2) positioning California for additional federal funds for stem cell research made possible by President Obama’s March 9, 2009 , executive order lifting federal restrictions on stem cell research;

(3) enabling California to leverage and expand the significant investment that private industry has already made in implementing science education programs in partnership with public schools, such as those outlined in the California Biotechnology Foundation’s soon-to-be-released directory of education programs;

(4) enabling California to maximize the benefit realized from the public funding of existing programs of the department of education by promoting greater collaboration and resource-sharing among the department of education, CIRM and private industry; and

(5) enabling California to produce the educated and trained workers needed to meet industry demand in the growing stem cell and biotechnology sectors, thereby keeping those jobs and tax-paying workers in California.

BIOCOM states: “SB 471 helps to insure a highly trained and continuous workforce for the life science industry, including that portion which is involved in the stem cell arena. The life science industry is one of the leading industries in the state in terms of jobs and economic impact, yet is not currently recognized as a priority in education. Currently, education in or recognition of the life sciences is often determined by the proximity of the industry to individual school districts.

ARGUMENTS IN OPPOSITION: The Catholic Conference states, “To date after several decades of work, the only successful therapies derived from stem cells have been the result of the type of research the CIRM will not fund, i.e., research on non-embryonic stem cells. Until CIRM pragmatically directs its funding towards research that has proven effective and away from research that is ideological, i.e. embryonic stem research, California tax-payer will not see little return on their multi-billion investment.”

(NOTE FROM DON about the argument in opposition: How many errors can you spot in that one paragraph? Here are a few:

1. “after several decades of work” –human embryonic stem cells were only isolated in 1998—how do you get “several decades of work” out of eleven years? The research the opposition supports, adult stem cells, did have a fifty year head start, which somehow they always forget to mention.

2. “research the CIRM will not fund, i.e., non-embryonic stem cells”—this is false. The CIRM has provided substantive funding to non-embryonic stem cell research, especially induced Pluripontiary Stem cells (iPS).

3. “research that is ideological, i.e. embryonic stem research”—the Catholic Church’s entire position on science is based on ideology, that same system of ideas which caused it to oppose anatomy, surgery, x-rays, blood transfusions, and other advances in science.

4. “California taxpayer will not see little return on their multi-billion investment.” “Little return”? Leaving aside what is undoubtedly a typographical errors,(“not see little”) the argument is demonstrably false. California has already attracted more money than it has spent. The CIRM has spent a total $693 million. It has already attracted $880 million in new money from research institutions. How many programs bring in more money then they cost?

SB 471 is an outstanding bill, which deserves support. Please forward this letter to all our stem cell research friends.

And as always, thanks for taking on this extra chore.

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OUR NANCY

OUR NANCY

By Don C. Reed, http://www.stemcellbattles.com

Shockingly, former First Lady Nancy Reagan was not invited to President Obama’s historic reversal of the Bush stem cell restrictions.

To understand what a colossal blunder that was, remember back to 2003, and the letter which galvanised a nation.

This was a dark hour for stem cell research. President Bush had slammed the door on federal funding for new stem cell lines. Even more seriously, for the first time in American history, a law had actually been proposed to put scientists in jail for medical research. The penalty for any scientist, doctor, patient or parent involved in Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer (SCNT, sometimes called therapeutic cloning) would have been ten years in jail and a million dollar fine.

Therapeutic cloning (of cells) is different from reproductive cloning (to make babies) just as a lightbulb is different from a lightning bolt. One starts forest fires; the other is a light in darkness. We do not ban electricity because one form of it can be harmful. We all agree: the cloning of children would be dangerous to child and mother, and should not be allowed. But the copying of cells may help us in the fight against incurable disease.

President Bush “enthusiastically” (his word) supported the Weldon/Brownback law to make SCNT a criminal offense.

But a fragile wisp of a woman from California had other ideas.

Nancy Reagan knew what was at stake.

Her husband, former President Ronald Reagan had once been the most powerful man on earth.

But he did not demonize the opposition. President Reagan was famous for being able to talk to people he disagreed with. He used to end a work day by having a drink with Tip O’Neill, the Democratic leader—and he, a strong conservative pro-life Republican, married a woman said to be pro-choice.

Agree with his politics or not, you could not hear him speak and not be moved. When he said to the leader of Russia, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall,” it was history—and the Berlin Wall came down.

He had a beautiful voice, and the professional actor’s command of language. He got his first job in broadcasting by acting out an imaginary football game, calling the plays and naming the players, in such a lively cheerful manner he was hired on the spot.

But now the golden voice was stilled. Even a President is not immune from the tragedy of Alzheimer’s disease. The memory which could once recall literally thousands of names, so that if he met you once he could remember you always—that light was darkened.

Nancy Reagan knew cure could not come in time to save her husband.

But she also knew that there were millions of other families who suffered, unable to help their loved ones. And for them, she would speak.

She took a stand: against the official position of her party, and opposing George Bush, President of the United States.

She sent an open letter to Senator Orrin Hatch, Republican of Utah, himself under fire for his courageous stand in support of SCNT.

Most people have only read the famous last two sentences.

Here is the actual letter. It may surprise you.

“Office of Nancy Reagan, open letter to Senator Orrin Hatch:

Orrin,
As you may know, Ronnie will observe his ninety-second birthday soon. In earlier times, we would have been able to celebrate that day with great joy and wonderful memories of our life together. Now, while I can draw strength from these memories, I do it alone, as Ronnie struggles in a world unknown to me or the scientists who devote their lives to Alzheimer’s research. Because of this, I am determined to do what I can to save other families from this pain.
I’m writing, therefore, to offer my support for stem cell research and to tell you I’m in favor of new legislation to allow the ethical use of therapeutic cloning. (emphasis added—dr) Like you, I support a complete ban on reproductive cloning. However, I believe that embryonic stem cell research, under appropriate guidelines, may provide our scientists with many answers that are now beyond our grasp.
Orrin, there are so many diseases that can be cured, or at least helped, that we can’t turn our back on this. We’ve lost so much time already. I can’t bear to lose any more.”
Nancy
–January 29, 2003

That letter broke the logjam. If the wife of one of America’s most beloved Presidents could support not only embryonic stem cell research—but also therapeutic cloning– maybe it was worth looking into.

Behind the scenes she helped even more, visiting with prominent Republican leaders, (I believe it was she who persuaded former Presidents Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter to also come out strongly in favor of therapeutic cloning) encouraging, educating, persuading.

And not in vain.

The bill to criminalize therapeutic cloning was defeated. And the Stem Cell Research Expansion Act was passed by both houses of Congress with a strong bipartisan majority—twice.

True, the positive bill was vetoed twice by Mr. Bush.

But the principle of scientific freedom was protected. America did not break its long tradition of honoring science. No scientists were put in jail.

And now at last, we have a President who promised to reverse the Bush restrictions.

March 9th, 2009, was the moment when President Obama fulfilled that promise, and signed the document. I had the good fortune to be invited: Roman, Gloria and I were in the room when our new President put America back on track, reversing the Bush ban on new stem cell lines.

There were of course, many who deserved to be there—thousands! All the unknown advocates who never make the paper, but who do the work to make change possible—they deserved to be there. Every scientist who ever took the long view and struggled with a near impossibility, working long hours on something to small to see without a microscope, and knowing all the time his or her efforts might be in vain. The room would have had to be as large as a state to get everyone in, who deserved to be there.

But above all, Nancy Reagan deserved to be there. Her absence was a shocking omission. Somehow, her name was left off the guest list for that moment of history.

She was nice about it, not even mentioning it until an interviewer directly questioned her about it, in an upcoming article in Vanity Fair magazine:

“She feels President Obama missed an opportunity when he did not invite her to the ceremony announcing his reversal of Bush’s policy on embryonic-stem-cell research. “I would have gone, and you know I don’t like to travel,” she tells (article author) Colacello. “Politically it would have been a good thing for him to do. Oh, well, nobody’s perfect. He called and thanked me for working on it. But he could have gotten more mileage out of it.”—VF, found on line June 1, 2009.

It made no difference that the list of invitees to the White House was almost certainly made up by new and overstressed employees, folks who through no fault of their own were not connected to the stem cell world.

Nancy Reagan had been there for us when it really counted.

Something had to be done to make things right.

But what?

There would be a statue honoring former President Ronald Reagan. President Obama had spoken about the statue, and he had mentioned Nancy Reagan’s advocacy for stem cell research. He spoke from the heart, with eloquence and clarity. But that was on the other side of the country, and Nancy Reagan was not there.

But California has two strong women who share a name, and a belief in stem cell research.

Enter Nancy Pelosi, America’s first woman speaker of the House of Representatives. There is a postcard with a painting of her as “Rosie the Riveter”, the World War II factory worker, over the words, “A woman’s place is in the House—as Speaker”.

Nancy Pelosi had led the charge to pass the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act, not once, but twice. When that bill comes back again, I am quite sure she will lead it again, and this time to victory. She is a fighter who won’t give up. She may get knocked down, but she will get up and come back, again and again.

California flat loves her.

Speaker Pelosi knows stem cell research can only advance as a unified field, full stem cell research, not just the narrow approach favored by the former President. (At the close of this article is a short speech she made in 2005: her best on the subject.)

In California, Nancy Pelosi stepped up to the mike.

“Mrs. Reagan, with your presence here today, I hope you know that we honor you. Not only for your support of the President, but for turning that support and love into action. Your support for stem cell research has made a significant difference in the lives of many American people. It has saved lives, it has found cures, it has given hope to people.”

She spoke for America.

There was a picture taken, a moment afterwards. The two women are standing close, and Nancy Pelosi is gently brushing away a tear from Mrs. Reagan’s face.

Our Nancy.

Both of them.

P.S. Here is the speech I told you about earlier.

Pelosi: ‘With Great Potential of Embryonic Stem Cell Research, Science has Power to Answer the Prayers of America’s Families
Washington, D.C. – House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi spoke on the House floor this afternoon in support of H.R. 810, the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act of 2005. The bipartisan bill will increase the number of stem cell lines that are eligible for federally funded research. Below are Pelosi’s remarks:
“This is a critical day for us in Congress. I am deeply indebted to Congresswoman Diana DeGette and Congressman Mike Castle for their great leadership in bringing this bipartisan legislation to the floor.
“This is significant legislation because every family in America is just one phone call away, one diagnosis, one accident away from needing the benefits of stem cell research. We want all of the research to proceed — the umbilical cord research, adult stem cell research, that’s all very important. But we must have the embryonic stem cell research if we are truly going to be able to have science have the potential it has to cure diseases. (emphasis added—dr)
“I’ve served for 10 years on the Labor, Health and Human Services Subcommittee that funds the National Institutes of Health. I’ve studied this issue through the years, and what we are doing here today is recognizing the miraculous power to cure that exists at the National Institutes of Health and at other institutes of excellence in research throughout our country.
“We are recognizing the miraculous, almost biblical, power that science has to cure. And we are here today to say that when these embryos are in excess of the needs of in vitro fertilization, rather than be destroyed, they should be used for basic biomedical research.
“When I first came to the Congress, some of the same people who were against embryonic stem cell research were very much against in vitro fertilization. It’s hard to imagine that now, but they were against in vitro fertilization and considered it not to be on high moral ground.
“The research is going to occur with federal funding or without. It should not occur without high ethical standards that the federal funding can bring to it.
“In order for our country to be pre-eminent in science, we must have the most talented, the most excellent scientists. They will not be attracted to a situation that limits scientific inquiry. As we all know, in science as in business, talent attracts capital, capital that builds all the labs that are needed to do research. And those labs in return attract those excellent scientists, which makes us first in the world, pre-eminent in science.
“I’m particularly proud of my state of California. The people of California in a bipartisan way, as we are doing today, voted a commitment of resources to invest in embryonic stem cell research. We in California will become the regenerative capital of America, indeed probably the world.
“This should be happening all over the country; it shouldn’t depend on the local initiative of the state. It should be coming from the leadership of the federal government with the ethical standards that go with it.
“To some, this debate may seem like a struggle between faith and science. While I have the utmost respect for those who oppose this bill on moral grounds, I believe that faith and science have at least one thing in common: both are searches for truth. America has room for both faith and science.
“Indeed, with the great potential of embryonic stem cell research, science has the power to answer the prayers of America’s families. I believe strongly in the power of prayer, but part of that prayer is for a cure, and science can provide that.
“Many religious leaders endorse this bill because of their respect for life and because they believe science, within the bounds of ethics and religious beliefs, can save lives and improve its quality. Groups as diverse as the United Church of Christ, the Union for Reform Judaism, the United Methodist Church, the Episcopal Church USA, and the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America all support this bill.
“The Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, the nation’s largest Orthodox Jewish organization, wrote: ‘The traditional Jewish perspective emphasizes the potential to save and heal human lives is an integral part of valuing human life.’
“The Episcopal Church in its letter in support of this legislation says, ‘As stewards of creation, we are called to help mend and renew the world in many ways. The Episcopal Church celebrates medical research and this research expands our knowledge of God’s creation and empowers us to bring potential healing to those who suffer from disease and disability.’
“It is our duty to bring hope to the sick and the disabled, not to bind the hands of those who can bring them hope. I believe God guided our researchers to discover the stem cell’s power to heal.”
– Nancy Pelosi, Tuesday, May 24, 2005

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ANOTHER ATTACK ON CALIFORNIA STEM CELL PROGRAM?
By Don C. Reed

Action Requested: share this information with friends. Consider sending polite letter of support for the California stem cell program to: littlehoover@lhc.ca.gov, attention Stuart Drown. Watch this space for a potential new law attacking the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine.

Dear Stem Cell Research Supporter:

On May 27th, an open meeting of the Little Hoover Commission was held to discuss ways to drastically overhaul the California stem cell program.

It was a disaster.

First, a little background. The Little Hoover Commission* (LHC) is a California “efficiency organization” with the power to suggest new laws to “improve” the function of California programs. That sounds okay, doesn’t it?

But the California stem cell program has already been “improved” half to death; much more such “improvement” and the patient may not survive!

As you know, the CIRM (California Institute of Regenerative Medicine) has endured three lawsuits, (which nearly shut it down for two years); been audited five times (came up squeaky clean, thank you very much), and has had seven (7) laws thrown at it; can anyone name a government program which has been more systematically investigated, almost to the point of harassment?

And yet it has prevailed. All seven laws were defeated, the audits found the CIRM open and honest, the lawsuits were defeated on every point.

But now comes the Little Hoover Commission anyway, to take its turn.

Friends of this column might remember I have been worried about this group.

As you know, stem cell research’s greatest enemy in California is probably Senator George Runner. Mr. Runner, described by one newspaper (the Los Angeles City Beat, 3/24/05) as “virulently anti-embryonic stem cell Republican George Runner” is against our research in general and Proposition 71 in particular. He is, I believe, co-author to every anti-CIRM law that has been proposed. One of his bills was the source of the original request for the Little Hoover Commission to study the California program, and his wife, Assemblywoman Sharon Runner, was until very recently a member of the Little Hoover Commission.

However, at the first meeting of the LHC discussing the stem cell program, several board members complimented it. One said Bob Klein deserved “an A plus” for leveraging $272 million in California dollars into $1.15 billion in purchasing power; another said the program should be studied as an example of government at its best: successful public/private partnership.

So was I worried for nothing?

Unfortunately, no. My worst fears were just realized.

Here are three of the LHC’s proposed changes. (They said a lot more, but they were talking very fast, and I am only a two-finger typist—not to mention they provided zero written documents as to their recommendations, which made things rough on people trying to provide accurate coverage of the public meeting.)

1. The Little Hoover Committee would gut the leadership board of the California stem cell program, the Independent Citizens Oversight Committee (ICOC): weakening it, and putting it under political control. They would reduce the ICOC by half, from 29 to 15 members. And, in place of the non-political structure of the board, the LHC would impose a new way to select the membership, politicizing it.

The ICOC is a non-political governing board, designed to be above ideology and partisan politics. It is deliberately large, 29 members, so as to provide a diverse cross-section of opinion: science, education, business, patient advocates.

The LHC was quite open about their intention: they wanted to impose a “more traditional board where the Governor and Legislation have control”. This not only opens up the possibility of removing our funding, but flouts the voters’ will; California voted for a program where science would be judged on its own merits, not subject to the changing winds of political ideology.

2. The Little Hoover Commission would take away the ICOC board Chairman’s salary, as well as the vice-Chair’s. They would deliberately weaken the Chair’s authority by transferring most of his responsibilities to the President. Also, they would shorten his term in office from 6 years to two; there was even talk of eliminating his position altogether, or passing it around the ICOC membership, taking turns, making the position a “non-executive executive”!

This is ludicrous.

To understand what a mistake this would be, consider what skills the chairperson must provide, both by need, and by California law.

First, how is our program funded? Our only source of money is the sale of California bonds. No bond sales, no funding. Fortunately, our current Chairperson, Robert N. Klein II is an acknowledged expert on these bonds, having worked with them since 1975. (Klein set up and helped run the highly successful California Housing Finance Agency, also financed by bonds.)

Second, the success of our program depends on deep knowledge of and experience in interaction with state and federal law.

The chair is Bob Klein, the man who designed the California stem cell program, and who has steered it through innumerable crises. He served unpaid for the first five years, before financial conditions forced him to take a salary, $150,000 a year, small compared to most executives.

Could he be replaced by a board member or even the President of CIRM?

Under the law, “Mandatory Chairperson Criteria” Proposition 71 requires:

“…(ii) Experience with state and federal legislative processes that must include some experience with medical legislative approvals of standards and/or funding.”

It also suggests: “(B) Additional criteria for Consideration:…

(iv) Direct knowledge of and experience in bond financing.”

Do we know anybody like that? Hmm, let’s see. The President, esteemed scientist Dr. Alan Trounson, (being Australian) would not be eligible under the law, because he has no such experience; also according to his testimony, he has no understanding of bond sales, which are the lifeblood of our program.

Who does know about bond sales, and whose idea was it to use them to fund the stem cell program? Bob Klein.

Whose idea was it to develop and sell “bridge anticipation notes”—BANs, another form of bond—which got us through the first two years when law suits blocked our funding? Bob Klein.

And who is trying right now to negotiate federal guarantees for our loans to biomed companies—as much as a billion dollars backup funding? Bob Klein.

One false step, and we could lose millions of dollars of new money for California.

We must have a chair who understands not only the twists and turns of stem cell politics, but also the complications of bond finance.

To the best of my knowledge, there is exactly one person in the world with a skill set like that—the man the Little Hoover Commission would “term out” of office.

3. The LHC proposes hiring more staff to help with the work at CIRM. That sounds pretty good, at first—except they would not authorize any more money for this. Prop 71, by law, can only spend 6% of total funding on employees. The LHC noted that, but suggests no provision to change it. Apparently they expect current employees to take a pay cut to hire the new workers.

So, if we cut everyone’s salary in half, we could hire twice as many people! An interesting concept. I wonder which of the LHC members would like to go first, and reduce his or her income, by way of example?

Throughout the hearing, LHC board members displayed a staggering lack of knowledge about the program they would so radically change.

Example: as a reason to change the ICOC governing board, one LHC member stated that biotech was “locked out of representation on the (ICOC) board”…apparently not realizing four biotech representatives are in fact installed on that board.

Example: Objections were raised to the alleged “throwing out” of the CIRM’s strategic plan. CIRM spokesperson Don Gibbons pointed out that this was incorrect: the “new” strategic plan was an addition to and extension of the previous one, not a replacement: and this fact was plainly labeled as such, from the front page onward. These additions included the new loan program, and also reflected some major changes in science.

Example: One member came close to slandering the men and women of the ICOC, accusing them of “giving themselves grants… anyone would want to play cards, if they could be guaranteed a stacked deck.” This is not only insulting, but factually inaccurate; board members are not even allowed to speak about grants affecting their institutions, let alone vote on “giving themselves grants”.

The public was not allowed to view the LHC draft document.

True. The board members and staff were allowed to have copies of the proposed changes, but not the public. This would seem contradictory to the LHC’s mission of increasing transparency of government. Apparently, the only time the public will see the actual document– will be after it is too late to offer comments on it!

Important: LHC members stated several times that they were against any legislative changes which would require “going to the people”, i.e. needing a public vote. They much preferred a legislature-only approach. The people, one individual noted, are “not interested in change”. Others agreed, calling it (popular vote on change) “arduous” and “futile”. At an earlier meeting of the LHC, a member stated his opinion that at least some of the changes sought by critics could not be achieved without a Constitutional amendment, which means a public vote.

Prop 71 was passed by initiative, and approved by the voters of California; much of the law was placed in the Constitution, meaning a vote of the public would almost certainly be required to amend it.

So would the LHC changes be Constitutionally legal?

“That’s for the courts to decide,” one member said, shrugging off the possibility of a few more years in court.

As the father of a paralyzed young man, I cannot be so casual about anything which may delay cure research. This struggle is personal to me, not some sort of intellectual exercise. The scientific challenges are difficult enough, without needless political delay.

When the meeting was over, a member of the LHC came up to me and said, “We want the CIRM to thrive and flourish!”

To which I responded, “Then why gut it? Why remove the heart and soul of a highly successful program?”

By any objective measure, the California stem cell program is an enormous success. Just one example: remember the $272 million budgeted for construction—which was leveraged into $1.15 billion in buying power. How did the ICOC and its Chairman accomplish this? They insisted that matching funds be required from institutions seeking facilities grants. In this manner the purchasing power of California dollars was multiplied three times over. How many programs, public or private, can bring in more funds than they put out? I know of none. And this is the Committee the LHC would weaken; this is the chairman whose salary the LHC would take away.

The ICOC board is a convergence of expertise, not a conflict of interest. Their diversity is a strength, and their chair makes sure every viewpoint is heard, which is probably why most decisions are close, often unanimous; they wrestle out their decisions, arguing, struggling, working it out, finding what is right—in the full light of public view– and California benefits.

The old expression applies: “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

Does that mean the program is perfect? Of course not. No institution on earth should be beyond correction. If a speed-reader was to wade through the endless pages of the public record of the ICOC meetings, he or she would find countless arguments about policy and performance, as problems are identified, dealt with, and policies set up to prevent their recurrence. That is healthy.

Positive interaction with our governmental leadership in Sacramento and Washington is actively sought; witness our new Vice-President, cancer-survivor Art Torres, whose sole job that is. Mr. Torres is a veteran of many years public service, including working with Cesar Chavez and the farm workers union, and he came out of retirement just to work with the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine.

Well, there it is.

The final draft of the Little Hoover Commission report will be released soon.

If you want to offer your thoughts and recommendations, or just voice your support for the California program, send an email to littlehoover@lhc.ca.gov, attention Stuart Drown. (On a personal note, I have met Mr. Drown several times, and corresponded with him, and he has always been polite and professional.)

So what do we do now? Consider writing the letter.

Above all, get ready.

Update your email lists. If you live in California, consider the idea of visiting Sacramento in the near future. If Senator Runner or someone else puts up a law based on LHC, which he almost certainly will, there will be hearings to attend.

If you don’t live in California, we will still need your help. This will be an interactive effort. If an attack law develops, we who support the CIRM will be going through our phonebooks and e-lists, organizing our defense.

Across America, wherever you live, the success or failure of the California stem cell program affects you and your loved ones: all who hope and work for cure.

Let there be no doubt in anybody’s mind. We in the patient advocacy community appreciate, support, and will defend the CIRM and the ICOC. It is the concrete realization of our hopes for cure, an institution dedicated solely to finding cures for illness and injury which afflict our families– we will not sit idly by when it is attacked.

Any law calling for a weakening or political “do-over” of California’s stem cell program must and will be vigorously opposed.

Don C. Reed, co-chair, Californians for Cures
Californians for Cures sponsored the Roman Reed Spinal Cord Injury Research Act, source of the first state-funded embryonic stem cell research in America.

*Important: Not all the LHC board members were present that day, (this is budget crisis time at the California capitol) and I know of at least one member who strongly opposes the direction the committee is taking. It may be that the committee will reconsider their current position– a good reason to send them your thoughts: littlehoover@lhc.ca.gov.

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