Thursday, November 22, 2007

Two CIRM Directors Upset by Improper Action by Colleague; Watchdog Calls for Klein Resignation

Two directors of the California stem cell agency have expressed concern about an allegedly illegal attempt by a fellow director to influence a $638,000 grant to his own research institution.

Their comments were contained in today's coverage of the attempt by John Reed, which was first reported on this web site on Wednesday. The item generated stories today in San Francisco Chronicle, San Diego Union-Tribune and The Sacramento Bee, San Jose Mercury News and on a blog Wednesday for Nature magazine.

Jeff Sheehy
, a CIRM Oversight Committee member, said that Reed, who is president of the Burnham Insitute, should consider resigning. Sheehy (see photo) told Sabin Russell of the Chronicle,
"We need to resolve this before questions are raised about the integrity of our processes."
Russell also reported that David Serrano Sewell, a San Francisco deputy city attorney and member of the Oversight Committee, was "upset" by Reed's action but stopped short of calling for his resignation. "Patient advocates understand the rules. I just wish John hadn't done what he did," Sewell said.

Some of the members of the 29-person Oversight Committee are appointed to what are known as "patient advocate" positions.

John M. Simpson, stem cell project director of the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, previously had called for Reed's resignation. The Chronicle reported that Simpson is also now calling for the departure of Robert Klein, chairman of CIRM. It was Klein, an attorney, who advised Reed to write the letter in violation of CIRM's conflict of interest policy.

Today's news stories also carried the first comments from Reed and Klein. Both declined to respond initially to inquiries from this writer.

Reed told the Chronicle:
"It did not occur to me that conflict rules would prevent me from contacting staff to provide what I believed to be relevant information."
Klein described his actions as an "inadvertent error." He was quoted in the Chronicle as saying that although the letter was directly personally to Arlene Chiu, the chief scientist at CIRM, it was never seen by "the scientific team." He said,
"Our firewall worked. The influence didn't change anyone's mind, because the letter wasn't even considered."
However, CIRM documents obtained by the California Stem Cell Report show that Tamar Pachter, general counsel for CIRM, responded to Reed's letter in subsequent correspondence to Burnham by saying,
"Staff has considered the substance of the letter, and appreciates the time and thought that went into it..."
Simpson has filed a complaint with the state Fair Political Practices Commission concerning Reed's action. Terri Somers of the San Diego Union-Tribune said the commission could fine Reed or Klein up to $5,000.Reed's action. Terri Somers of the San Diego Union-Tribune said the commission could fine Reed or Klein up to $5,000.

Here are links to the Nature item and the Bee story. The Mercury News also carried a short item.

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