We asked CIRM if it had any comments concerning the item we wrote dealing with Cascade's concerns. We also specifically asked CIRM the following question: How can an applicant appeal on the basis of a conflict of interest if it does not know the names of the specific reviewers who evaluated their application?
Here is the text of the response from Don Gibbons, chief communications officer for CIRM.
"The company would note anyone on the review panel whom it believes has a potential conflict, then staff would see if that person was a primary or secondary reviewer, or if not, whether they made substantive comments during the review that could have influenced scores.Our comment on the conflict of interest question raised by Cascade: The names of all the scientists on the review panel are public. Only in cases of the names of individuals assigned specifically to a specific application are the names secret, as we understand the process. An applicant can see the names of all reviewers in advance, do some research on the individuals and ask CIRM ahead of the review to bar particular reviewers from evaluating its application.
"You should know that CIRM does not believe that the reviewer citing 0.3 percent instead of 0.66 percent is a substantive error. The latter would still require 150 eggs to get one cell line, and that was a significant weakness in the application. The three percent or one-in-30 number cited elsewhere in the application by the firm is noted to come from preliminary data, something that we felt was not peer reviewed and not substantiated, and therefore outside of the realm of consideration for review. There were several other weaknesses in the application cited by the reviewers.
"CIRM’s success rate for grant applications is already considerably higher than for NIH applicants."
We suspect that no applicant has performed that sort of due diligence, but we could be wrong. In fact, raising such an issue ahead of a review could have a negative impact on consideration of an application. Few reviewers are likely to be fond of having their integrity questioned. And an accusation of a conflict of interest cannot be fully investigated without informing the reviewer involved.