Thursday, June 02, 2011

The Candidate's Letters: What Thomas and Litvack Have to Say

Here is a brief look at the letters of interest submitted to the board of the $3 billion California stem cell agency by two men in pursuit of a six-year appointment as its new chairman. First the item on Jonathan Thomas, then Frank Litvack. CIRM directors begin evaluating the men on Monday.


Bond financier Jonathan Thomas says he would liquidate his holdings in Advanced Cell Technology of Santa Monica, Ca., an unsuccessful applicant for CIRM funding, if he is elected chairman of the California stem cell agency.

In a May 23 letter to the CIRM board, Thomas, chairman of the Saybrook Capital, also of Santa Monica, said he raised funds for ACT early on and still holds a "small portion" of the company's stock.

Other than that, he said he has no other "actual or potential" conflicts.

Thomas' letter did not discuss the holdings of his firm, which deals in municipal bond financing, the only real source of cash for the $3 billion California state stem cell agency.

Thomas, who is also a lawyer, cited his public finance expertise and said it would be helpful in the event of a ballot measure seeking additional funding in 2014 or 2016. Outgoing Chairman Robert Klein, a real estate investment banker and attorney, has touted a proposal that could run as high as $5 billion.

Thomas said he has had "direct experience as an underwriter, financial advisor or issue in billions of dollars of bond financings."

He also proposed hiring Rob Church of Hogan Lovells, a Los Angeles law firm. He said that Church has had many years of experience working with the FDA on clinical trials, a costly area on which CIRM is pinning much hope.

Thomas noted that he has a long term interest in science, majoring in biology and history at Yale and earning a doctorate from Oxford studying the role of disease in British expansion into East Africa.


Frank Litvack, a Los Angeles cardiologist, also has a wide range of business interests but says he would divest any that pose a conflict of interest.

In a May 25 letter to the CIRM board, Litvack detailed his business background, much of it reported earlier, along with current activities including his role as an "informal adviser" to a firm that is based on research by a CIRM grant recipient, Eduardo Marban.

He said does not have "an informed opinion" on whether the job of chairman requires full or parttime work, "absent spending time within the organization." He said his other commitments are "elastic" and would devote the time necessary to do the job.

Litvack called himself a "consensus builder." He said the chairman should lead the areas that "fall outside of the president's statutory responsibility including aspects of finance related to agency funding and philanthropy, public communications as well as optimizing relationships with industry and international collaborators."

Litvack said he has raised several hundred millions of dollars for companies but that his most fulfilling role has been as a clinician.

Regarding cell therapy, Litvack, who is listed on the staff at Cedars-Sinai in Los Angeles, said he is on the board of Pervasis Pharmaceuticals of Cambridge, Ma., whose product is an endothetial cell therapy. He said that for two years he has been an unpaid advisor to Capricor Inc., of Los Angeles , a cardiac stem cell company. He said,
"The company is based on the research of Dr. Eduardo Marban, a CIRM grant recipient ($5.6 million) and director of the Cedars-Sinai Heart institute. I have advised them with regards to clinical trial strategy and the shift from autologous to allogeneic stem cells."
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  1. What ever became of ACT's Alameda facility, which had been much discussed by californiatemcellreport?
    Of course, ACT’s principal laboratory and GMP facility is in Marlborough, Massachusetts.

  2. Good question, Larry. ACT closed its Alameda headquarters in one of their periods of retrenching and moved to Santa Monica. As you may recall, they transferred their corporate headquarters to California because of Prop. 71. I find it odd that they have not been successful since 2005 in securing a loan or grant from CIRM, particularly since they are only one of two companies in the country -- probably the world --with an hESC clinical trial underway. What is your take, Larry? And thanks for the comment.

  3. Anonymous10:43 AM

    These university researchers are in general very self centered (ie. selfish) and they are competing against ACTC and GERN for the money, and they are trying to go around the very strong patents of ACTC and GERN by using government money to try to "break" or to "go around" the patents of these two companies, which are light years ahead of the university researchers. Now that Geron and ACTC are on the verge of historic breakthroughs to commercialization, CIRM finds itself potentially be left in the dust with no real results to speak of (ie. no results that the taxpayers can see "easily" nor understand) after spending billions of taxpayer's dollars. CIRM decided to ride the coattails of Geron and ACTC by loaning out some pittance laughingly tiny amount of money, so that it can "buy" bragging rights of "building" the success of ESC commercialization, when that occurs soon as the clinical (human) trials of Geron and ACTC get really going. CIRM had done essentially nothing in the last few years for Geron and ACTC. Unless CIRM gets on the coattails of Geron and ACTC now, it cannot claim to have contributed anything, when Geron and ACTC reaches successful cures and commercialization. It is too bad that Geron and ACTC don't have enough money to tell CIRM to freak off, and that they have to "beg" CIRM for pittances that will give CIRM bragging rights after doing nothing for them before.