California Stem Cell Research Board Picks Leaders, Draws Criticism

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Dec 21, 2004   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

California Stem Cell Research Board Picks Leaders, Draws Criticism Email this article
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by Steven Ertelt Editor
December 21, 2004

Sacramento, CA ( — After dumping most of its agenda following complaints that it was violating a state open meeting’s law, the newly-created oversight committee to monitor the distribution of $6 billion in tax dollars for embryonic stem cell research and human cloning chose its leaders.

In an unanimous decision Friday afternoon, members chose real estate magnate Robert Klein, who crafted the Proposition 71 ballot proposal, to be their new chairman.

Edward Penhoet, co-founder of biotechnology company Chiron Corp., received 21 of the 25 votes total to become the committee’s vice-chairman.

Each man serves a six-year term at the helm of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine.

State Controller Steve Westly and Treasurer Phil Angelides removed any other business from the committee’s agenda, but one of the key members of the panel objecting to the process says he’s considering a lawsuit to overturn the votes.

Berkeley attorney Charles Halpern, who filed the original complaint with Attorney General Bill Lockyer saying the meeting was improper, said even the stripped-down meeting was conducted in violation of state law because it did not give the public enough information about the candidates in advance of the meeting.

"We got no information about any of the candidates until (Friday) morning,” Halpern told the Associated Press.

Halpern and others are also concerned that the new chairman of the committee is the person who wrote Proposition 71 and not a scientist.

Meanwhile, a taxpayers group is concerned that several members of the committee have ties to pharmaceutical companies and the biotech industry — affiliations that could prejudice their decisions on who gets funding.

"The public health value of stem cell research could be significantly compromised by the web of conflicts between committee members and the companies that stand to profit from research grants," said Jerry Flanagan of the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights. "The concern is that research grants will be given on the basis of personal relationship and financial interest and not in the best interest of California patients."

Flanagan’s group released information detailing the relationships of six of the committee members, including Penhoet, and their relationships to companies that stand to benefit from grants issued by the committee.

The California Nurses Association echoed Flanagan’s concerns.

"It’s interesting to note that many Californians are experiencing buyer’s remorse, with some expressing shock at the ‘fine print’ in the initiative," said Deborah Burger, RN, president of the 60,000-member medical group.

Burger is concerned that California set a good example for other states and the international community by dispersing funds in an ethical, unbiased manner.

Related web sites:
Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights –
California Nurses Association –