Thursday, August 20, 2009

Who Will be the Lucky Eight?

SAN FRANCISCO -- The board of the California stem cell agency today approved a $44 million recruitment effort to lure a handful of “paradigm-shifting” scientists to the Golden State.

The program, which will kick in early next year, was adopted on an 18-2 vote. It was supported overwhelmingly by CIRM directors from institutions that are likely to benefit from the plan, which will provide packages perhaps as large as $4.5 million for possibly eight stellar scientists.

No legal conflicts of interest prevented medical school deans and others from voting on a “concept” proposal that could benefit their universities, research institutions or medical centers, according to CIRM lawyers.

The proposal was modified slightly from the initial plan to remove a limit of four awards per year. Also removed was wording that would have prevented awards to scientists who are more than 10 years past their postdoctoral positions.

In his first comment as a new member of the CIRM board, William Brody, president of Salk, said the program would be a good investment, helping to populate the new labs being built in California with $271 million from CIRM. He agreed with numerous other board members who said the program would lure “franchise players” and “paradigm-shifting” researchers, the type who would “ask the big questions.”

The recruitment effort is also aimed at helping the University of California and other institutions facing financial hardships.

The heart of the two-year proposal -- the cash -- did not generate significant opposition. Questions were raised, however, about the procedures, such as using a telephonic instead of a physical meeting of a special grants review group to act on nominations for the grants.

Earlier we reported that stem cell scuttlebutt has it that Kevin Eggan and Amy Wagers, both of Harvard, are possible targets of the recruitment effort.

CIRM directors did not discuss publicly whether the lavish recruitment effort would sour their relations and collaborations with other states and institutions, some of whose leading figures serve on CIRM committees.


  1. Of the text about “franchise players” and “pardigm-shifting” researchers, a "franchise player" is likely one recognized by peers as doing peer-accepted research and would be the least-likely person to be a paradigm-shifter. In 2006, IPBiz had a post
    The George Steinbrenner approach to stem cell research? which included the text:
    The issues mentioned by Wise Young might be more appropriate to a discussion of George Steinbrenner buying up ballplayers. For medical research matters, there shouldn't be a "major league of stem cell research" with different states comprising competing teams and fighting to get the top researchers, all using the money of taxpayers. Further, if intellectual property matters don't get resolved, the folks of California are going to be surprised about who gets a big chunk of their $3 billion. Of past acts of buying up "franchise players," see
    Nayernia to join stem cell effort at Newcastle

    and recall Nayernia just had a paper retracted because of plagiarism (and likely involving over-hype).

  2. Analogies between what is currently going on at CIRM with themes from the novel Arrowsmith should be self-evident. On the subject of prizes (here, for the "lucky 8"), recall that, although Sinclair Lewis was awarded the 1926 Pulitzer Prize for Arrowsmith, he declined the prize and observed:

    "I wish to acknowledge your choice of my novel Arrowsmith for the Pulitzer Prize. That prize I must refuse, and my refusal would be meaningless unless I explained the reasons.

    All prizes, like all titles, are dangerous. The seekers for prizes tend to labor not for inherent excellence but for alien rewards; they tend to write this, or timorously to avoid writing that, in order to tickle the prejudices of a haphazard committee.

    Talk of "paradigm-shifters" by CIRM should be measured in this context.


Search This Blog