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California's International Stem Cell Collaborations Must Be Based on Scientific Merit, Consumer Group Says
Date:6/18/2008

SANTA MONICA , Calif., June 18 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- California's plans to join in cooperative stem cell research efforts with Canada and the Australian state of Victoria should be supported so long as they are based on scientific merit, not merely the glamour and glitz of playing on the world stage, said Consumer Watchdog.

The nonpartisan, nonprofit group, formerly The Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, noted that the state's stem cell agency rightly pledged all its funding in the cooperative agreements would go to research in California, as provided by Proposition 71. Both Victoria and Canada have had substantial stem cell research efforts.

"If the collaborations are driven by the science, that's great," said John M. Simpson, Consumer Watchdog's Stem Cell Project Director. "If it's a matter of saying let's go international, just to play on the world stage, I would be dubious."

The California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) in announcing the agreements today said that the first opportunity for the collaborative efforts will be with so-called disease team grants. These grants will fund research teams focusing on treating or curing specific diseases with stem cell techniques. A request for grant applications is expected in the fall. The multi-year grants worth millions of dollars are expected to be awarded next June.

"It's important that applicants for the disease team grants be judged completely on the scientific merit of their proposals," said Simpson. "Decisions cannot be twisted for geographic equity. I would hope that international collaborative efforts would rise to the top, but if they don't, so be it."

Consumer Watchdog also said CIRM must closely monitor and justify other costs that might be incurred because of international collaboration.

"I'm glad they've pledged that all the research funding will stay in California, as it must under the law," said Simpson, "but are there other costs associated with these plans? For instance, CIRM's proposed 2007-2008 budget includes a whopping 287 percent increase in travel, from $144,000 to $558,000. Increases of that magnitude demand scrutiny and their value must be adequately justified."

Proposition 71, which created CIRM, passed by 59 percent of Californians in 2004. Consumer Watchdog's Stem Cell Oversight and Accountability Project is working to ensure that California's landmark stem cell research program offers accessible and affordable cures and treatments to the taxpayers who have funded it. The program will sell $3 billion in bonds over a decade to fund stem cell research. Financing charges mean the project, the largest source of stem cell research funding in the world, will cost California taxpayers $6 billion.

Consumer Watchdog is a nonprofit, nonpartisan consumer advocacy group. For more information visit us on the web at: http://www.ConsumerWatchdog.org


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