Thursday, December 02, 2010

Stem Cell Chairmanship Flap Draws Major Media Coverage

The ruckus over selection of a new chairman for the California stem cell agency this morning drew the rare attention of the Los Angeles Times, the state's largest circulation newspaper.

And it wasn't the kind of attention that CIRM is looking for.

Reporter Jack Dolan mentioned a “possible conflict of interest” involving Alan Bernstein, a candidate backed by outgoing chairman Robert Klein, and said Bernstein could become “one of the highest paid employees in state government.” The position of CIRM chairman carries a salary with a top range of $529,000.

Dolan reported that state Treasurer Bill Lockyer, a longtime colleague and friend of another candidate for chair, Art Torres, has decided not to nominate anyone because of misgivings about Bernstein.

Dolan quoted Tom Dresslar, Lockyer's spokesman, as saying,
"He just doesn't have enough information to alleviate his concern about Mr. Bernstein's role in crafting the (recent external review) report.”
Dolan's article raised the conflict question in connection with completion of the report, which Dolan described as “glowing.” Bernstein chaired the panel, which included seven other persons. Presumably the conflict would arise if some sort of quid pro quo existed for generating a favorable report.

Dolan quoted Klein, a strong supporter of Bernstein, as saying,
"It would be quite a compliment to the agency if someone who has done such a thorough review of the agency, and has talked to everyone involved, would accept the nomination to be chair."
Dolan did not include in his story Klein's Portola Valley plan to install Bernstein as an executive chair.

The board is expected to take up the chairmanship election later this month, although it doesn't have to vote on any of the candidates. It has a variety of options: One would be to pass on all the candidates, choose an interim chairman, let the dust settle and make a final choice in a month or two.

The Los Angeles Times has rarely reported about activities of the California stem cell agency over the last six years. Dolan recently wrote an overview assessment of the agency that has attracted national attention. His article has ricocheted around the Internet as fodder for critics of hESC research and persons concerned about what they perceive to be unnecessary government spending.


  1. Anonymous9:06 AM

    I see Klein's adopting the leadership style and skills of that great Russian advocate of democracy, Putin.

    Trounson wasn't quite the puppet Klein was counting on, so now he's pushing Bernstein on us.

    Nothing against foreigners, but isn't there a requirement in Prop 71 about the board slots going to California residents?

    Surely Klein will have his way with the board again, and they'll continue to do the bidding of the "chairman emeritus" on into the future.

    But just for fun, let's imagine that they toss Klein from the process, either excusing him from the discussion and vote this month, or putting it off until 2011 when he's gone (at least formally). Let's see if they're truly "independent citizens".

  2. Anonymous9:17 PM

    Independent citizens--truly Orwellian language for this cabal of bought off insiders.

    Let's see. Klein got this passed advocating for science--embryonic stem cell cures--that most in the scientific community consider passe. The new IPS and direct cell programming approaches are far more viable for therapies except in a handful of cases.

    Then, Klein got himself appointed Chair and maneuvered himself into a CEO role at CIRM.

    Then, as CEO, he has directed millions of dollars to institutions whose executives serve on the ICOC. He's even fundraised for matching private contributions for their new buildings paid for in large part by CIRM funds.

    They can not and would not bite the hand that has fed them so ably.

    Now he wants to control his succession and is likely to maintain control over the agency as long as he can.

    What is the ICOC? 28 monkeys who see no evil, hear no evil, say no evil.

  3. For those confused about the item that begins "independent citizens," the reference is to inartful language from Prop. 71. The measure, authored by CIRM Chairman Robert Klein and a handful of others, legally named the CIRM governing board the "Independent Citizens Oversight Committee" or the ICOC.