“There are always ways in which we can improve our performance, and we regularly review our processes to try and ensure we do a better job with each round of funding. We have been looking into the genomics award to identify areas where we can improve the process for future awards.”
Monday, February 10, 2014
Amid Allegations of Unfairness, California's Stem Cell Agency Begins Examination of $40 Million Genomics Award Round
The California stem cell agency today said it has begun an examination of the grant review process in its $40 million genomics round, which has been criticized for irregularities, unfairness, score manipulation and the role of its president, Alan Trounson.
The agency confirmed the inquiry after the California Stem Cell Report asked last Thursday asked whether the board's counsel, James Harrison, was looking into the matter.
Kevin McCormack, senior director for CIRM communications, replied today in an email,
McCormack did not specifically respond to the question of Harrison's involvement. We have queried McCormack again about whether Harrison is involved. (McCormack subsequently confirmed Harrison's participation.)
Harrison, who is with Remcho Johansen and Purcell of San Leandro, Ca., has been outside counsel to the board since its inception. He drafted portions of Proposition 71, which created the $3 billion research effort in 2004. Harrison has expertise in conflict of interest and ethics issues as well as other related public policy matters.
Harrison's role at the agency exceeds that of a simple attorney. His length of service, knowledge and skills give him much wider influence.
CIRM's examination of the genomics round review followed complaints from rejected applicants and others about the process, which has been covered extensively by the California Stem Cell Report.
Trounson has come in for criticism in connection with the review and his subsequent recommendation in favor of the successful Stanford-led bid. One of the critics is Jeanne Loring, head of the stem cell program at the Scripps Research Institute and whose genomic application was rejected by Trounson and the CIRM staff. Her application and two others were recommended for funding by reviewers. Loring has contradicted Trounson's assertion that all applicants were given information that matching funds were part of the review criteria. Her application contained none. Stanford said it had $7 million.
Loring said that Trounson has interfered in CIRM's review processes in favor of Stanford. Trounson has been a guest at a Montana ranch owned by Irv Weissman, head of the Stanford stem cell program. Trounson did recuse himself in an earlier round involving an application linked to Weissman, but did not recuse himself in the genomics round.
Weissman was not listed in the latest Stanford application, but was in its original version. The associate director of Weissman's Stanford stem cell institute, Michael Clarke, was included in the final CIRM-approved version. Trounson lauded Clarke at the governing board's meeting last month in support of the Stanford project.