“California’s stem cell scandal gets worse.”
“To begin with, CIRM placed the investigation in the hands of its law firm, San Leandro-based Remcho, Johansen, and Purcell. The Remcho firm is the antithesis of an objective, independent party; its lead partner on the CIRM account, James Harrison, has been a CIRM insider from the start. He helped draft Proposition 71. He's been counsel to the agency or its governing board since 2005.
“As it turned out, Harrison couldn't conduct the investigation himself, because he was involved in some of the transactions with Stem Cells Inc. under review. Instead of hiring an independent law firm to do the job, CIRM allowed the review to be turned over to Harrison's own partner, Margaret R. Prinzing.
“Trounson hasn't been available for comment; Prinzing reported that he was back in his Australia home, and she herself communicated with him by email. Stem Cells declined Friday to our request for comment. We've reached out for comment to the law firm, and will update if we hear back.”
“Trounson didn't speak on the Stem Cells application during that September meeting. But he did weigh in on another Alzheimer's proposal from researchers at USC and UC Davis, which had received a higher score from the reviewing panel. That proposal, like the Stem Cells application, had already been rejected once by the CIRM board, and had come back on appeal.
“At the September meeting, Trounson told the CIRM board that the scientific reviewers had misgivings about whether the USC/UC Davis proposal was sufficiently stem-cell oriented to fit within CIRM's portfolio. He didn't speak out against the application, but merely passed along the grant reviewers' doubts. ‘It remains questionable, and I think you have to decide yourselves on it,’ he told the board.
“It isn't clear whether approval of that proposal necessarily would have killed the Stem Cells application--theoretically, both could have been approved. But the board then was looking for one Alzheimer's project to fill out its disease-therapy portfolio, and Stem Cells got the nod. The board rejected the USC/UC Davis application, 10-4.
“In any case, Trounson plainly was participating in discussions that carried possible implications for his future employer, as far back as 2012.”
“Here's what we know so far: A well-connected company with questionable finances and a research proposal of uncertain scientific validity has received favorable treatment from CIRM. An investigation of the relationship between the firm and CIRM's management was placed in the hands of a law firm inextricably entwined with management, and given an inappropriately narrow scope. The unanswered question burning a hole through CIRM's credibility is whether Stem Cells Inc. got its money because its research was promising, or because it knew the right people.”
(The Times also carried a short news piece late Friday dealing with the Trounson affair. The article by Amina Khan said the agency is continuing in "damage-control mode." It recounted Mills pledge not to accept employment with a CIRM grant recipient until one year after he leaves the agency. The story also referenced the Hiltzik column.)
(Editor's note: The above parenthetical material was not contained in the original version of this item. An earlier version this item also incorrectly said the Hiltzik column was expected to be published in print on July 27.)