Sunday, May 16, 2010

Longtime CIRM Watchdog Expanding Beyond Stem Cells

Zach Hall, the first president of the California stem cell agency, once called John M. Simpson a “constructive critic” of the state's $3 billion stem cell research effort.

Today Simpson still monitors CIRM but he has other responsibilities that have put him on the front page of the business section of the Washington Post. One week ago the newspaper described him as a “thorn” in the side of a $162 billion corporation called Google.

Simpson's prickly Google performances have surfaced in other media outlets as well. They are all part of an effort by Consumer Watchdog of Santa Monica, Ca., (Simpson's employer) to hold Google to its promise “to do no evil.”

In addition to Simpson's forays, Consumer Watchdog has mounted a major Internet push on an investigatory Web site it calls “Inside Google.” It includes articles ranging from antitrust concerns to privacy to Google's search performance.

Last Sunday's lengthy piece on Simpson(pictured) and Google, written by Cecilia Kang, garnered 98 comments and 140 Tweets. She wrote that Simpson's “singular focus is turning up the regulatory heat on Google.”

Kang reported,
“With its brand appeal, (Simpson) says Google is an ideal target. He's turned the tables, digging up data on the giant that tracks every move its users make and collects information without their knowledge. Also, he said, the company unfairly uses its size to barrel into new businesses.”
One might think Simpson has wandered far afield from CIRM. Not entirely so. Google has a $100,000 connection to CIRM. Sergey Brin, Google's co-founder made a loan in that amount to the Prop. 71 campaign, which was directed by Robert Klein, who is now chairman of CIRM, which was created by the proposition.

Brin's wife,  Anne Wojcicki, has a strong interest in biotech. She co-founded 23andMe, a genetic testing firm that was initially backed by Mohr Davidow Ventures of Menlo Park, Ca., one of whose partners, Michael Goldberg, is a member of the CIRM board. Mohr has since sold its interest in 23andMe and invested in a rival, Navigenics of Foster City, Ca.

Google's new venture capital arm has also started to make investments in biotech companies and has expressed an interest in regenerative medicine. It could only be a matter of time before a Google-backed company applies to CIRM for some of CIRM's billions.

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