Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Campaign Contributions, Kleiner Perkins, iPierian and CIRM Grant

A biotech company heavily backed by venture capitalists who contributed nearly $6 million to the election campaign that created the California stem cell agency was awarded a $1.5 million grant this spring from the very same agency.

The firm, iPierian, Inc., of South San Francisco, reportedly plans to seek many more millions from the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine in the near future.

The venture capitalists are principals in Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers of Menlo Park, Ca. They include John Doerr and his wife, Ann, who contributed nearly $4 million to the Prop. 71 ballot initiative, according to state records. Doerr is well-known in company start-up circles and was involved in the early funding of Google and Amazon.

Other Kleiner contributors to the campaign included Vinod Kholsa, $500,000; Joseph Lacob, $750,017, and Brooks Byers, $480,000.

The Kleiner-related contributions amounted to 25 percent of the $24 million contributed in 2004 to create the stem cell agency.

During the 2004 campaign, some critics said that Prop. 71 amounted to little more than seed money for the venture capital community. The state voter guide's argument against the proposition said, “...(P)harmaceutical company executives and venture capitalists contributed $2.6 million (to gather signatures) to put this measure on the ballot. By getting taxpayers to fund their corporate research, they stand to make billions with little risk.”

In 2008, Kleiner launched its investment into what is now iPierian with $20 million. Kleiner is its single largest financial backer. One of Kleiner's partners has a seat on the five-member iPierian board.

In response to a query, James Harrison, outside counsel to CIRM, strongly defended the agency. He said its conflict of interest code exceeds the requirements of state law. The full text of Harrison's comments can be read here, but he said in part,
“In order to advance CIRM's mission, it is critical that venture firms like KPC&B (Kleiner) invest in stem cell companies so that these start-up companies have the funds necessary to bring therapies to the market.”
Kleiner did not respond to a request yesterday for comment.

The grant to iPierian was approved with the vote of the man who was the head of the Prop. 71 campaign, Robert Klein, a real estate investment banker in Palo Alto, Ca. He is now also chairman of the $3 billion California stem cell agency. Klein sits on the grant review group that makes the de facto decisions on grants. He participated in the closed-door session during which the iPierian grant (see review summary here) was approved and the full board meeting at which the decision was ratified. Harrison said no conflict of interest existed for Klein.

Harrison said,
“California conflict of interest law does not require recusal under
these circumstances. Indeed, the connection is so attenuated, it is difficult even to understand how this could ever rise to the level of a conflict.”
Harrison said Klein had no knowledge of the involvement of the Kleiner campaign contributors with iPierian. Harrison also said that Klein has pledged to “refrain from holding any financial interests in biotech companies as long as he is chairman.”

Another member of the grant review group had a direct connection to iPierian and was recused. She is Amy Wagers, a Harvard scientist who sits on both the iPierian scientific board and the CIRM grant review group. Wagers did not respond to a request for comment.

The stem cell company has other ties to CIRM. George Daley of Harvard, co-chair of the iPierian's scientific advisory board, is on the blue-ribbon scientific panel that is slated to assess CIRM's progress next fall. In addition to Wagers, two other members (Kevin Eggan and Chad Cowan)of the iPierian advisory board serve on CIRM groups that make decisions on grants and recommend research policies to the CIRM board. John Walker, the president of iPierian, and Ted Love, a CIRM board member, both serve on the 9-member board of directors of Affymax, Inc., of Palo Alto, Ca.

Daley and iPierian did not respond to a request for comments.

Ipierian has said it is interested in applying for more cash from CIRM. According to Ron Leuty of the San Francisco Business Times, the firm plans to seek an award in CIRM's new, $50 million clinical trial round. It is expected to be one of only three companies applying in that round.

We will carry the full text of remarks from Kleiner, iPierian or individuals mentioned in this item if we receive them.

1 comment:

  1. Jeff Sheehy7:31 AM

    With all due respect to the esteemed blogger, I think this is a non-issue.

    First, Mr. Klein has no vote in the Grants Working Group. Second, all of the reviewers mentioned are always removed from the room when grants they have a conflict with are discussed and scored.

    The iPierian grant was highly recommended by non-conflicted experts. The ICOC approved the grant, as it should.

    So a group of Harvard researchers supported in part by California venture capital have started a company producing high rated research in the Bay Area. Investments made, jobs created and hopefully clinical trials on the way. Isn't this exactly what voters expected and wanted with they voted for Prop. 71? Did we want this work to take place in Massachusetts instead of here?
    Jeff Sheehy


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