Monday, December 13, 2010

Eleven Top Stem Cell Researchers Back Klein for Re-election

A who's who of California – if not global – stem cell science is lobbying directors of the state's $3 billion stem cell agency to go along with Robert Klein as its chairman despite the disclosure of his now failed, closed-door efforts to hand pick his successor.

The letter may not necessarily have its desired impact. One CIRM board member, David Serrano Sewell, said,
"Honestly, I'm not sure anyone really cares what they think, they should focus on research and finding cures, not dwelling on board matters."
The 11 signatories to the letter include two Nobel Prize winners, one of whom, David Baltimore, is a former member of the governing board of CIRM. All but one of them have tens of millions of dollars at stake in grants from the stem cell agency and are heavily invested in basic research, as opposed to translational efforts to push research into the clinic.

Irv Weissman of Stanford, one of the signers, for example, has $23 million in grants from CIRM. Another, Larry Goldstein of UC San Diego, holds $14 million in grants. Most of the institutions employing the scientists also have representatives on the CIRM board of directors. (For additional information on Goldstein's grant, see here.)

CIRM is currently involved in assessing the future direction of its research. Should it move more strongly towards business and actual use of stem cell therapies on patients, it is likely to mean that basic research will have a smaller share of CIRM's remaining $2 billion.

In the letter, the 11 said,
“In this regard, we stress, that our collective experience with the discovery of new approaches to the treatment of disease is that new solutions to currently intractable problems will come primarily from research that gives rise to new understanding of disease itself. On occasion, significant progress can also come from thoughtful application of existing knowledge, but either on its own is insufficient. Hence, it is crucial for the next ICOC Chair to have a deep understanding of both scientific and medical principles in order to balance short and long-term investment in stem cell research and clinical application.”
The group plumped for the proposal by Klein, a real estate investment banker, that he be replaced with a nationally known scientist. They said,
“We also enthusiastically support Mr. Kleinʼs proposal to find a successor who has substantial scientific and medical experience as well as personal familiarity with the burdens of disease.”
That requirement is not part of the legal qualifications for chair, which do include a familiarity with bond financing, which is the only source of CIRM funding.

The board meets Wednesday afternoon at Stanford to consider action on nominations for its chair. It does not actually have to vote, however. If it does not do so, Klein, whose term is expiring, would automatically continue in office.

One of our readers refreshed us on that last week after we wrote that Klein appears to be a shoo-in for re-election after the only other nominee, vice chairman Art Torres, said he was stepping aside for the good of the agency. Klein has offered to serve for 12 months without salary until the board picks a new chair. His decision to decline a salary (he now earns $150,000 for half-time work) apparently removes a conflict of interest and enables him to participate in board discussions about chair selection that he would be otherwise barred from. However, removal of his salary would require board action, which would seem to be an ongoing conflict for him, whether he wants the salary or not.

There is a remote possibility that another candidate for chair could surface. The state treasurer has not yet made a nomination. The state controller nominated Torres but could withdraw that nomination in favor of someone else. The governor and lieutenant governor have nominated Klein. The board's choice is limited by Prop. 71 to those nominated by the four state officials, but it does not have to accept any.


  1. Well, it's pretty obvious then who you should vote for if you value scientific advancements in medicine. They've made that pretty clear here. I guess we'll have to wait to see what happens but I don't think this will be a huge shocker.

  2. Anonymous5:01 PM

    can someone query one of the 11 and ask who drafted thi letter?

    And, let me guess, will the next thing to happen be Klein will, indeed, get a state paycheck in the range of $150K to $529K?

  3. Anonymous7:49 PM

    The scientists who signed this letter should be ashamed of themselves.

    Two Nobel prize winners prostitute themselves because their institutions have received money from CIRM (and one, Baltimore, has seen his start-up Calimmune receive part of a $20 million grant).

    The rest of them have received millions in grants from CIRM. How craven, corrupt and self-serving can one be?

    And these are the people who we are supposed to trust when the issue of private peer review sessions comes up?

    Clearly, they lack the integrity to realize that they are conflicted from commenting on this by their receiving grants from this agency.

  4. Re the right of the Scientific 11 to comment, they certainly can defend themselves. But I do think that they can and should participate in a public process. Where they slipped up was failing to acknowledge in the letter what they have at stake economically. The CIRM board of directors would be better off if it had regular and robust public involvement of both academic and business scientists and executives at their meetings. Not just at set pieces before the directors actually do their business. But of course CIRM cannot produce the substance of proposed matters before the board in sufficient time to allow intelligent comment from stakeholders. It is effectively a policy that makes it clear that outside comments are not desired.