Friday, July 17, 2009

CIRM Director Love Wades into the Trenches at CIRM

It is not exactly an internship, but one of the directors of the California stem cell agency is working as a volunteer at CIRM during the next few months.

The director is Ted Love, a physician and businessman, who until recently was CEO of Nuvelo, Inc., of San Carlos, Ca. He has served on the CIRM board since its first meeting in December 2005.

Earlier this month, CIRM announced that Love will be assisting the agency's management one to two days a week until CIRM appoints a new chief scientific officer. The agency noted that Love has “extensive experience bringing medical therapies to the market.” CIRM said Love will be of “considerable value” in connection with the $210 million disease team grant round scheduled for approval later this year.

Love sits on the board of directors of Arca biopharma, Inc., of Broomfield, Colo., Affymax, Inc., of Palo Alto, Ca., and Santarus, Inc., of San Diego, Ca. Arca is the biopharmaceutical company that absorbed Nuvelo earlier this year. Affymax is another biopharmaceutical business, and Santarus acquires and develops products dealing with gastrointestinal problems.

Given ongoing issues about conflicts of interest at CIRM and more recent questions about micromanagement by CIRM directors, we posed several questions to the agency about Love's involvement.

Amy Adams, CIRM communications manager, responded. She said Love will not be acting chief scientific officer in the absence of Marie Csete, who has announced her resignation. Adams said,
“Ted Love is acting as a part time advisor to the president on the overall architecture of our grants programs.”
We asked,
“Does any of his work involve potential conflicts of interest considering his involvement in Arca and potential future employment in the biotech industry? “
Adams' response:
“No. To the extent that any potential conflicts arise, Ted will recuse himself from participating in the decision.”
She said none of his work will involve applications from any company that has applied for a grant or that is expected to apply for a grant. Adams said that it is “uncertain at this time” what role he will play in the review of the disease team applications by the grants working group.

We also asked,
“How can Love fulfill his oversight responsibilities as a CIRM board member when he is actually performing the tasks that could come under board scrutiny?”
Adams replied,
“He will be assisting the science office on an interim basis and does not expect that his brief tenure at CIRM will interfere with his oversight responsibilities. Indeed, he thinks it will give him a better understanding of CIRM's internal operations.”
She said that Love will receive no compensation for his work, including the per diem granted board members for meetings.

We also queried longtime CIRM observer John M. Simpson, stem cell project director of Consumer Watchdog of Santa Monica, Ca., about his thoughts on Love's volunteer work. Simpson replied,
“Ted Love has been a substantial and important contributor to the ICOC. He is a talented executive who brings the perspective of the bio-medical industry to the table. That’s a necessary perspective, but by no means the only important perspective. If he can briefly help CIRM after the departure of Chief Science Officer Marie Csete, that’s probably a good thing. I worry, however, that if this arrangement lasts too long and he becomes too involved in day-to-day operations, it will be difficult for him to fulfill his oversight responsibilities on the board.

“I also wonder what advising 'the president on the overall architecture of our grants programs' means. That phrase prompts me to wonder about the status of the revised strategic plan, which was first presented in a draft last December. It was the subject of hearings in February and March, but still hasn’t come back to the ICOC. If I were a board member, I would have wanted to approve that revised plan before I even considered the budget for 2009-2010. “
A footnote on all this: Prop. 71 has specific criteria for board members. Love was appointed to the board when he was CEO of Nuvelo, but he no longer is an “executive officer of a commercial life science entity.” He can continue to sit on the board because of his position as board member of a life science firm.

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