The hiring -- as a consultant -- of Alan Lewis (at right), onetime head of ViaCyte, Inc. of San Diego (formerly Novocell) and the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, brings at least a temporary halt to the search to fill the new VP post that was created after Marie Csete resigned suddenly as chief scientific officer. The CIRM Web site no longer lists the VP position as available.
CIRM President Alan Trounson sought unsuccessfully for a nearly a year to fill the job. This spring he appeared to have run afoul of resistance to his plans for compensation for the post, which would normally top out at $332,000 annually if the position were filled by a regular CIRM employee.
Under the terms of Lewis' contract, he is expected to work about 24 hours a week and meet with CIRM officials at least once a week at the agency's San Francisco headquarters. (CIRM provided an unsigned copy of the contract, which is a public document, at the request of the California Stem Cell Report.)
Lewis is the third top executive of CIRM to be working on a part-time, paid basis. The others are CIRM Chairman Robert Klein, who receives $150,000 for half-time work, and co-Vice Chairman Art Torres, who is paid $225,000 for four days a week. By way of contrast, CIRM President Alan Trounson receives $490,008 annually for fulltime work.
Lewis' agreement runs from June 21 through the end of this year at a rate of $2,500 a day, “with pro-ration (sic) for less than four hours.” The contract is capped at $250,000 not including travel expenses.
On June 23, Trounson told the CIRM governing board that Lewis would be serving as a consultant two or three days a week "to help us with the clinical, preclinical programs." Trounson did not mention that Lewis would carry the title of interim vice president for research and development nor did he mention the size of the contract. If it had been above $250,000, it would have required director approval.
Lewis is expected to travel widely and possibly internationally. Trips from his home in Solana Beach near San Diego in Southern California to CIRM's headquarters will be paid for by CIRM.
Lewis has had a long business career, which raises questions about possible conflicts of interest. In addition to Novocell, he worked for Signal Pharmaceuticals and Celgene in the San Diego area. He left Novocell in 2008 to work for the diabetes group. The CIRM contract said Lewis affirmed that “there exists no actual or potential conflict between the consultant's family, business or financial interest and the services provided under this agreement.”
ViaCyte is the recipient of more than $26 million in awards from CIRM.
Lewis must file a statement of economic interests that is required of most state officials. We have asked CIRM for a copy of that document.
Here is how the contract describes Lewis' responsibilities:
“• Consult Senior Management on biotechnology, pharmaceutical and investment sectors to enable and enhance the development of clinical applications in CIRM’s scientific portfolio.The contract differs somewhat from the CIRM news release on Lewis. It said that he would “take direction” from the executive director of scientific affairs – not work in collaboration. This is of significance because their duties overlap and could be a source of friction if not carefully managed.
“• Consult on the preclinical and clinical development phases of CIRM’s programs and projects involving not-for-profit and for-profit teams, including assembling and working closely with CIRM advisory committees to provide oversight of these programs and make go/no go recommendations to the President for continuation of CIRM support.
“• Work in close collaboration with the Executive Director of Scientific Activities.
“• Integrate basic discoveries where possible into the translational and preclinical pipeline and identifies gaps in CIRM’s scientific program for delivery of cell therapies and related products.
“• Develop and implements strategies to aid clinical applications such as in the critical areas of manufacturing, drug and cell product safety and efficacy.
“• Consult Senior Management regarding interface approaches with national and international regulatory organizations”
(Photo from San Diego Union-Tribune)
(Editor's note: An earlier version of this item incorrectly said that Lewis' contract was not mentioned by Trounson at the June CIRM board meeting.)