Sunday, May 05, 2013

The Klein Donation: Text of Robert Klein's Comments on Special Treatment by CIRM

Here is the text of comments from Robert Klein, former chairman of the California stem cell agency, concerning his $21,630 donation to the agency and subsequent actions by the agency. Klein's comments May 1 came in response to questions from the California Stem Cell Report(CSCR) on April 30. The text of the inquiry from CSCR precedes Klein's response. Here is a link to the story on the matter.

CSCR to Klein:
"I have sent the following to CIRM asking for their response and am offering the same opportunity to you. Here is what I sent the agency:
'The documents that I have received so far show that after Klein gave CIRM $21,000 the agency instructed six of its science officers to give him special access to their activities and apparently did not object to additional instructions from another member of the public, Melissa King, to provide Klein and her with written summaries about their activities at the ISSCR convention and “details” about their work at CIRM. Email addresses of the six were also provided to Klein, who may have additionally received their cell phone numbers although that is not entirely clear. The CIRM documents show that the six were told to engage in one-on-one sessions with Klein, which actually included a third person, a wealthy Canadian mining company executive. One document indicates that the science officers should assist in fundraising for CIRM by identifying areas of “special importance” to Klein and 'other donors.'
"'Additionally, Alan Trounson, at Klein's request, invited the mining executive to a closed door session involving the agency's international partners, a session at which presumably valuable, little known scientific information would be discussed and future directions charted. Trounson specifically told the executive that it was Klein who asked that executive be invited to the session, adding to Klein's clout in any business or other dealings that Klein might have with the executive.'
My questions to CIRM deal with the special treatment that was provided in connection with your donation. I would ask you if you think that state agencies should provide this sort of extraordinary treatment for individuals who donate to the agency. At the very least, doesn't this raise questions about the integrity of the agency and doubts in the public mind about whether it can be fair and even-handed in its activities?
Klein's response:
"In April or May of 2012 I committed to contribute a charitable donation to CIRM to cover the travel costs for 5-7 additional science officers to attend the International Stem Cell Conference in Japan.  It is important to CIRM that their science officers understand the cutting edge research being developed around the world so that CIRM does not fund redundant research; but, to the contrary, the science officers understand how to create networks between California scientists and scientists in other foreign countries who are doing complementary research that can potentially accelerate the advancements of therapies for patients. I do not hold any financial interest in biotech companies. I have historically been involved in encouraging international collaboration to advance medical therapies; for patients, every day of delay in the development of a therapy is a delay they cannot afford. To conceptually document the value of additional scientists traveling to these meetings, it was discussed that there should be conceptual, bullet point summaries about the value for CIRM obtained through the scientists discussions at the international conference.  The idea was to create bullet points of information about a few of the most meaningful scientific concepts and contacts the science officers benefitted from each day of attendance at the conference. I did not participate in the selection of the science officers who attended and I did not play any part in determining what activities they participated in. There were two fundamental goals to the very short one-on-one sessions that were arranged at "down time" that would not conflict with their other activities. The first goal was to conceptually understand if each of the science officers believed that the benefit to the agency was sufficient to justify the cost of their attending, when considering the learning and contacts they had gained which might accelerate research and therapies for patients. The second goal was to assist universities and non-profits, principally in Canada - a research partner of CIRM - in advancing their contributions from an existing donor or donors.

"The Canadian mining executive had an important history in contributing to the International Stem Cell Society and to Canadian non-profit research institutions. This individual has an expert background in mining and a passionate personal commitment to medical research; but, he does not engage in technical discussions of research. On a conceptual basis it was important for him to understand the spectrum of medical advances towards therapies. His additional contributions to Canadian non-profits could assist Canada in collaborating with California on more international research, with California only funding the research done in California and the donor helping to fund the research done in Canada. No specific grant applications were discussed. Finally, the discussion with the international partners focuses on the funding process and funding collaboration it does not discuss any individual grants. The value of international collaboration and the benefits of collaborating with new international partners is discussed. Scientific theories and individual grants are not discussed and new scientific information is not presented. I attended this session of international partners to support international collaboration; again, I do not hold any financial interest in any biotech organizations. Additionally, I do not have any business or financial relationship with the Canadian mining executive. The Canadian executive, based upon family and friends who have had chronic disease, is a significant donor to non-profit research institutions in Canada. All of my activities, the donation and the encouragement to develop information to validate the future benefits of science officers traveling to international stem cell conferences were focused on benefitting California patients with chronic illness or injury and the agency formed through Proposition 71."

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