Jonathan Thomas is chair of CIRM’s governing board, the Independent Citizens’ Oversight Committee
From the very beginning in 2004, when voters approved Proposition 71, creating the stem cell agency and providing us with the money to help fund research, CIRM has been a unique organization. No other state agency was ever created in this way. As we set out to start work we had no models to follow, we had to start from scratch. So we did. And I think we did a remarkable job. But there is always room for improvement and with that in mind in 2011 we asked the Institute of Medicine (IOM) to come in and take a look at everything we do from how we are run to how we fund research, and let us know what we are doing well and where they think we could do better.
This assessment has been underway since I became Chair of the agency’s governing board, the Independent Citizens Oversight Committee (ICOC), last year, and I’ve eagerly awaited the IOM’s report on how we’ve been doing and how we can improve.
Why the IOM? Well they are considered the gold standard for scientific policy and health care. They set up a 13-member panel led by Harold Shapiro, PhD, a former President of Princeton University, which included experts from a wide variety of scientific and governmental fields. Over an 18-month period they held three public meetings, several briefings and asked us a lot of tough questions.
The result is a detailed report that came out this week looking at every aspect of the stem cell agency’s operations and organization. It’s a comprehensive and thoughtful look at us, and a quite complimentary one too.
Among the areas the IOM singled out for praise are:
- CIRM’s collaborations with funders in the US and around the world saying this “substantially enhanced California’s position as one of the key international hubs of activity in regenerative medicine.”
- Science and research – “CIRM has been highly effective in building an impressive research portfolio.”
- Global impact – “the work of CIRM-sponsored researchers continues to enrich regenerative medicine everywhere,” and that “CIRM and those it has funded have set in motion a significant scientific enterprise.”
- Grants management – “Given the complexity of this endeavor…..the overall success of the grant management infrastructure is impressive.”
- Industry engagement – “CIRM has created an exemplary training program and seeded a pipeline of intellectual property and translational projects that are primed for industry involvement, outside funding, and unique therapy delivery mechanisms.”
Those findings are a testament to the experience, expertise, and commitment of the staff at the stem cell agency, and of our governing board. It’s a very small organization by most standards – just over 50 employees – but our staff do an extraordinary amount of work, and high quality work at that. All that was reflected in the IOM report that called the agency “a bold social innovation.”
While it’s nice to get praise we also wanted to know where we could do better, and the report highlighted some areas and made some recommendations about where and how we might improve our performance. Those include:
- Changes to the composition and structure of our governing board, the Independent Citizens Oversight Committee (ICOC)
- Changes in the roles board members play in the grant application review process
- Revisions to our Conflict of Interest policies
- Sponsor training programs on ethical issues and stem cells
- Establish a Scientific Advisory Board
- Develop a sustainability platform
- Increase industry representation on our governing board, the Independent Citizens Oversight Committee (ICOC), and other key working groups
We take the report, and all its observations, seriously and over the next few months the agency’s management team and our governing board will consider how best to respond to the report and its recommendations.