California's stem cell agency overstated and hyped the importance of its funding in enabling clinical trials for a drug to treat a severe blood disorder, Consumer Watchdog said, seriously undercutting the agency's credibility and alienating those who support publicly funded stem cell research.
The California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) issued a news release (see link below) entitled "First Clinical Trial Begins for a Therapy Enabled by CIRM Funding." The announcement even drew a comment from Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who issued a release saying CIRM funding led to the discovery. He added, "I am proud of our state's commitment to stem cell research, which delivers the best promise in finding treatments for deadly and debilitating diseases."
A report on California Stem Cell Report published by David Jensen makes clear how little CIRM funding was actually involved in the research by a team led by UCSD's Catriona Jamieson.
"There is important scientific work here that led quickly to an important clinical trial," said John M. Simpson, director of Consumer Watchdog's Stem Cell Project. "But the fact is that CIRM is jumping on the bandwagon claiming credit for contributions that were at best rather trivial."
The initial CIRM news release about the clinical trial said that Jamieson was funded by a stem cell SEED grant that was approved in February 2007. That grant was given to fund the derivation of cancer-causing stem cells from human embryonic stem cells. The research that led to the clinical trial did not involve human embryonic stem cells at all.
Moreover, according to the official notice of grant award, the time period for the CIRM funded grant of $613,305 was from Aug. 1, 2007- July 31, 2009. The university officially signed off on the grant on Aug. 31, 2007. The paper outlining the research findings was submitted to "Cancer Cell" on Sept. 19, 2007.
"CIRM is too eager to claim immediate results," said Simpson. "Certainly we'll see great benefit as the result of stem cell research, but this political manipulation and hype does a tremendous disservice to all who believe in the value of this research."
After Jensen asked questions about the CIRM release, the agency modified the version posted on its website to note that an earlier CIRM training grant had gone to pay the salary of a post doctoral researcher in Jamieson's laboratory.
"Stem cell agency officials repeatedly say, 'It's all about the science,'" said Simpson. "If only that were true. More often than not -- as in this case -- it's all about appearances, hype, and claiming credit."
Proposition 71 that created CIRM passed by 59 percent of Californians voting 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.
Illustration: California Institute for Regenerative Medicine.
California Institute for Regenerative Medicine News Release (04/08/08)
California Stem Cell Report, April 15, 2008 entry (04/2008)
Consumer Watchdog (04/16/08)
The Earth Times (04/16/08)
Life News (04/21/08)