Trounson has been a guest at the ranch. In 2012, he recused himself during CIRM board discussions of two applications involving Weissman. The applications were from StemCells, Inc., of Newark, Ca., for $20 million each. StemCells, Inc., was founded by Weissman, who still holds a large amount of stock in the firm and serves on its board of directors.
At that point the CIRM staff, headed by Trounson, became more involved. Under new procedures, the staff may make recommendations concerning applications. In this case, they recommended that only the Stanford application be funded, but only after restoring a provision eliminated by reviewers. Trounson also recommended no funding for the three other top applications in the round. It was the first such major intervention by Trounson and the most aggressive staff move on grant applications.
She said in an email,
"During the ICOC (governing board) meeting, Alan Trounson said that he had told us during his visit to all of the first round grantees that it would be important provide money for 'matching' funds. I state unequivocally that he did not tell me or anyone in my lab about this." (Loring's boldface)
Complaints about manipulation of the scores were raised prior to the board meeting by Pui-Yan Kwok, leader for an application from UC San Francisco and UC Berkeley. He said that the scores of the top to applications were “based on the reviewers removing from consideration the poorest performing center-initiated projects.” He described the situation as appalling.
“I am concerned about the interference of the CIRM president in influencing the ICOC decisions. He has de facto power to promote or defeat specific applications, and he often wins by promoting one applicant over another. Stanford and Stanford faculty-founded companies such as Stem Cells. Inc., should not be so blatantly promoted over others. The relationship between the president and the head of the stem cell program at Stanford involves personal favors which make him conflicted and he should at the very least recuse himself from any discussion or recommendation of Stanford faculty's applications.”
“The 29-member board is difficult enough to deal with, but now that most of the members are considered to be conflicted and are not allowed to even discuss the applications, we are left with a small number of non-scientists making decisions about scientific merit.
“I know that at least 5 members of the ICOC were very upset that they were unable to voice their opinions about what should be their mission- to guide CIRM's policies and choices for funding so that they are in the best interest of the voters.”
“It appears that CIRM staff took a lot of liberties behind closed doors in driving this initiative to its final outcome. For example, what happened to require a resubmission and re-review etc. Did they change anything about this initiative in the process? Were certain criteria shared with some but not all applicants?
“It also appears that the board was taken by surprise and not prepared to deal with the complexities in this initiative. Clearly staff has not kept them in the loop and they had little access to the details of the process and how reviewers were managed. They have always funded the vast majority of what the reviewers scored highly, and still did not break the bank. This is a brand new situation where the reviewers recommended more grants than they could afford to fund. This happens a lot in the NIH (especially today with severe budget cuts), so NIH has developed many processes to deal with this. CIRM has not seen anything like this before.”
“The questions (all legitimate) raised by the certain members of the board were by and large not understood or picked up by the other voting members, so they went nowhere.
“Too many thoughtful board members were conflicted out, leaving the decision-making to a handful who are not prepared to deal with this complex situation. I blame the IOM (Institute of Medicine) report in giving too much power, without the appropriate process, to staff. Staff can recommend, but if the board has no information other than what staff provides, then they are acting in the dark.”
“The net result (of their proposal) is that this center will help bring cutting edge technologies to all stem cell researchers in California and along with the funded projects will help keep California at the leading edge of two important fields: stem cell research and genomics, and thereby help accelerate both the science and therapeutics treatments possible in this field, and spur industry and economic development. questions.”
(Editor's note: An earlier version of this item incorrectly said the first name of Michael Clark was William.)