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NEWS RELEASE
Mar 01, 2005


CONTACT: Jerry Flanagan, (310) 392-0522 ext. 319

Stem Cell Oversight Committee Called on to Abide by Anti-Conflict of Interest and Public Accountability Laws

In a letter sent today, the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights (FTCR) called on the committee overseeing $3 billion in California taxpayer-funded stem cell research grants to abide by anti-conflict of interest and public accountability laws. FTCR announced its support of a petition submitted to the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine by former U.S. Assistant Secretary for Health, Philip R. Lee, MD, and public interest attorney Charles Halpern.

Prop 71, approved by California voters last November, established the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine for stem cell research and the 29 member Independent Citizens Oversight Committee (ICOC) to oversee the grant-making process. The ICOC has been criticized for its members' ties to some of the largest biotech and pharmaceutical companies in the world, which stand to profit from research grants approved by the oversight committee.

In the letter sent today to Robert Klein, Chair of the Independent Citizens Oversight Committee, FTCR wrote:

"The eyes of the world are on California. New medical treatments and funding strategies developed in the world's sixth leading economy will become national models. The success or failure of the California experiment could decide the fate of stem cell research for years to come."

FTCR also expressed concern that the oversight committee has failed to live up to the basic principles of an open decision-making process by not adequately notifying the public about meetings and limiting opportunities for public comment. The Lee/Halpern petition calls on the ICOC to abide by anti-conflict of interest standards, open meeting rules and compensation caps, and to adopt grant-making guidelines. The ICOC has thirty days to respond to the petition.

FTCR letter:

Robert Klein
Chair
Independent Citizen's Oversight Committee

Mr. Klein,

The eyes of the world are on California. New medical treatments and funding strategies developed in the world's sixth leading economy will become national models. The success or failure of the California experiment could decide the fate of stem cell research for years to come.

We are writing to express our deep concern with the failure of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine ("CIRM") and Independent Citizen's Oversight Committee ("ICOC") to guarantee an open, democratic decision-making process and disregard of state conflict of interest laws. The Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights (FTCR) calls on the CIRM and ICOC to support the petition filed by Philip R. Lee, MD, and Charles Halpern, JD.

When voters approved the unprecedented $3 billion in taxpayer-funded bonds to support stem cell research, they did so to provide access to innovative medical technologies for all Californians. However, the public availability of new medical technologies is threatened by a web of conflicts between those responsible for awarding research grants and the biotech and pharmaceutical companies who stand to profit. Of the 29 members on the ICOC, at least 10 hold board positions with, or own stock in, various pharmaceutical and biotech firms which will likely be competing for research grants. The oversight committee has also failed to live up to the basic principles of an open decision-making process by not adequately notifying the public about meetings and limiting opportunities for public comment.

For patients and taxpayers, these conflicts could mean that research intended for the public good will be diverted for personal profit. Particularly of concern are low-income communities that may never receive any benefit from the research that their taxpayer dollars are funding.

Sincerely,

Jerry Flanagan
The Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights

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The Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights is a nonpartisan consumer advocacy organization. For more information, visit us on the web at http://www.ConsumerWatchdog.org

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