Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Down to the Wire for Restructuring California Stem Cell Agency

In the face of a funding-related legal battle, support for the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine is being challenged again, this time by an agency backer from the beginning, State Senator Deborah Ortiz. She has concerns that the language of Proposition 71, which created the embryonic stem cell agency, doesn't ensure California will share in potential profits or that poor residents will benefit from the taxpayer-supported research, and it allows key agency committees to conduct much of their work behind closed doors. She says that the issue must go back to the voters because Proposition 71 prohibits the Legislature from amending the initiative for three years.

The state Senate is expected to vote this week on a proposed constitutional amendment that would tighten loopholes in how the agency is governed, including requiring agency officials to sell off, or place into a blind trust, any investments related to stem cell research, as well as requiring that any drugs developed with agency money be made available, at cost, to California's poor and that any drug profits be shared with the state. If it passes both the Senate and the Assembly with two-thirds majorities by June 30, it will likely be on the ballot for a state referendum this fall.

CIRM supporters say the changes will drive away top talent and corporate involvement as other states and nations begin advancing their own embryonic stem cell research projects. They also fear that returning the issue to the voters could open a new can of legal worms.

I pray she finds a can opener.

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