He is Laurence Elias, who worked for Geron from March 2006 until October 2009 as vice president for oncology clinical development.
In April, Nature Medicine identified Geron as one of the likely applicants in CIRM's first ever involvement in financing a clinical trial. On May 24, CIRM hired Elias as a $50,000 consultant at a rate of $300 an hour. His contract runs until Dec. 31.
In response to a query, CIRM defended the hiring and said no conflicts of interest were involved. The agency said,
“Dr. Elias is an independent consultant and an accomplished clinical development professional. He was consulted for his technical and regulatory input to ensure that the clinical elements of the RFA were technically complete and accurate. The concept for the clinical RFA had already been approved and as such Dr. Elias was not in any position to influence the overall scope or structure, nor will he have any role in evaluating applications. Dr. Elias’s integrity and professionalism are beyond question. CIRM staff and Dr. Elias complied with all conflict of interest requirements.”The RFA for the clinical trial round was originally expected to be posted in April or May. It is now scheduled for Aug. 31. CIRM has not responded to repeated inquiries concerning the reason for the delay.
We asked CIRM for Elias' statement of economic interests, which some of its consultants are required to file. CIRM said one was not required in Elias' case.
Geron, in announcing Elias' hiring in 2006, said,
His responsibilities will include the planning, design and execution of clinical trial strategies and protocols as well as the monitoring of these multi–center clinical trials.”The other two companies expected to be competing in the clinicial trial round are Advanced Cell Technology and iPierian, which is backed by venture capitalists who funnelled about $6 million into the election campaign to create the California stem cell agency.
Our take: The Elias hiring has all the appearances of a conflict of interest. We would not expect iPierian or Advanced Cell Technology to be pleased by the situation.