Thursday, January 20, 2011

CIRM Directors to Consider Plan to Pay Some Board Members up to $15,000 Annually

The California stem cell agency has released more information on issues coming before its directors next week, including a plan to pay some of the patient advocate members on its board up to $15,000 a year for their work.

Ten patient advocate members sit on the 29-member CIRM board of directors. The proposal would apply to six, those who serve on the Grants Working Group and the vice chair and co-chair of the Facilities and Standards Working groups. Barred from the compensation plan would be the chairman and statutory vice chairman of the agency, Robert Klein and Art Torres respectively, who are also patient advocate members. They already are paid for their work.

The new pay plan -- to be considered next Thursday in Burlingame -- would establish a daily rate of $562.50 for patient advocates who sit on the groups as regular members. Patient advocates serving as vice chair or co-chair would be entitled  to that rate plus an additional, unspecified amount.  A cap of $15,000 would be placed on the pay.

The rate is 75 percent of what CIRM pays its outside scientific reviewers, whose expenses are also covered by CIRM. The patient advocate compensation would be in addition to their expenses as well.

The chairman of the CIRM board would determine the total compensation for each advocate based on the number of days required for "preparation and participation" in grant reviews as well as for meetings of the facilities and standards groups. (Our comment: The plan would give the chairman additional leverage on some board members. It may be more appropriate to require that the compensation decision be made by the chairman and the two vice chairmen of the board.)

Currently members of the board receive per diem of $114 per day and $14 an hour for attendance at meetings and preparation time, plus expenses.

The CIRM information about the plan did not contain an estimate on the total cost of the compensation. It also does not fully explain the justification for the pay. However, patient advocate members sometimes lose salary from their regular jobs when they take time off to participate in CIRM activities. Their attendance is also more critical because other board members often have legal conflicts of interest that prevent them voting on some matters. CIRM directors who are not patient advocates and who hold top executive positions may not lose salary, depending on the polices of their employers. Such members additionally can often use the staff of their institutions to perform work in connection with CIRM activities.

Some of the patient advocate members may decline the new compensation. Here is a list of those who would be affected, based on information posted on the CIRM web site but not on the agenda: Sherry Lansing, former Hollywood studio chief, co-chair of the standards group and member of the grants group; Jeff Sheehy, a communications manager at UC San Francisco, a member of the standards, facilities and grants groups; Jonathan Shestack, a Hollywood film producer, member of the standards group and grants group; Marcy Feit, CEO of ValleyCare Health System, member of the standards, grants and facilities group; Joan Samuelson, founder of the Parkinson's Action Network, vice chair of the grants group, member of the standards and facilities groups, and David Serrano Sewell, a San Francisco deputy city attorney, vice chair of the facilities group, member of grants group.

Other information posted by CIRM on its web site for the directors meeting includes the grant reviewers' summaries of the 56 applications submitted for the $40 million tools and technology round. In response to a question, Gibbons said seven businesses applied for grants. However, CIRM refused to provide a breakdown between non-profit research institutions and academic applicants because, Gibbons said, the non-profits "have always had an academic component." Five of the 56 applicants have German collaborators, who will receive their funding from non-CIRM sources.

The top ranked grant was given a scientific score of 90. The lowest ranked grant approved by reviewers was scored at 62. Fourteen grants that appear to be ranked above 62 were rejected by reviewers. The summary of the reviewer comments indicated that a portion of the grant was recommended for funding because of "programmatic" reasons. That portion of the review said,
"The proposed materials may offer some advantages over competing materials in the current marketplace for soft tissue reconstruction. Reviewers discussed the emergence of clinical data for utility of hASC and agreed that there might be potential for nearer term translation of formulations as proposed in Aim 1."
So far we have not seen any appeals from researchers whose grants were rejected by CIRM reviewers.

The directors agenda also now has links to information concerning the determination of the criteria for the person who is elected in June to succeed CIRM Chairman Klein, who has said he will step down then.

(Editor's note: An earlier version of this item incorrectly characterized the amount of compensation for the co-chairs and vice chairs, based on inaccurate information provided by CIRM. For more details on the error, see this item.)

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