Friday, July 02, 2010

$250,000, Six-Month Contract for CIRM's Lewis

The new interim vice president for research and development at the California stem cell agency holds a $250,000, six-month contract that calls for him to push hard to develop clinical applications that CIRM hopes will demonstrate the success of its $3 billion effort.

The hiring -- as a consultant -- of Alan Lewis (at right), onetime head of ViaCyte, Inc. of San Diego (formerly Novocell) and the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation,  brings at least a temporary halt to the search to fill the new VP post that was created after Marie Csete resigned suddenly as chief scientific officer. The CIRM Web site no longer lists the VP position as available.

CIRM President Alan Trounson sought unsuccessfully for a nearly a year to fill the job. This spring he appeared to have run afoul of resistance to his plans for compensation for the post, which would normally top out at $332,000 annually if the position were filled by a regular CIRM employee.

Under the terms of Lewis' contract, he is expected to work about 24 hours a week and meet with CIRM officials at least once a week at the agency's San Francisco headquarters. (CIRM provided an unsigned copy of the contract, which is a public document, at the request of the California Stem Cell Report.)

Lewis is the third top executive of CIRM to be working on a part-time, paid basis. The others are CIRM Chairman Robert Klein, who receives $150,000 for half-time work, and co-Vice Chairman Art Torres, who is paid $225,000 for four days a week. By way of contrast, CIRM President Alan Trounson receives $490,008 annually for fulltime work.

Lewis' agreement runs from June 21 through the end of this year at a rate of $2,500 a day, “with pro-ration (sic) for less than four hours.” The contract is capped at $250,000 not including travel expenses.

On June 23, Trounson told the CIRM governing board that Lewis would be serving as a consultant two or three days a week "to help us with the clinical, preclinical programs." Trounson did not mention that Lewis would carry the title of interim vice president for research and development nor did he mention the size of the contract. If it had been above $250,000, it would have required director approval.   

Lewis is expected to travel widely and possibly internationally. Trips from his home in Solana Beach near San Diego in Southern California to CIRM's headquarters will be paid for by CIRM.

Lewis has had a long business career, which raises questions about possible conflicts of interest. In addition to Novocell, he worked for Signal Pharmaceuticals and Celgene in the San Diego area. He left Novocell in 2008 to work for the diabetes group. The CIRM contract said Lewis affirmed that “there exists no actual or potential conflict between the consultant's family, business or financial interest and the services provided under this agreement.”

ViaCyte is the recipient of more than $26 million in awards from CIRM.

Lewis must file a statement of economic interests that is required of most state officials. We have asked CIRM for a copy of that document.

Here is how the contract describes Lewis' responsibilities:
“• Consult Senior Management on biotechnology, pharmaceutical and investment sectors to enable and enhance the development of clinical applications in CIRM’s scientific portfolio.
“• Consult on the preclinical and clinical development phases of CIRM’s programs and projects involving not-for-profit and for-profit teams, including assembling and working closely with CIRM advisory committees to provide oversight of these programs and make go/no go recommendations to the President for continuation of CIRM support.
“• Work in close collaboration with the Executive Director of Scientific Activities.
“• Integrate basic discoveries where possible into the translational and preclinical pipeline and identifies gaps in CIRM’s scientific program for delivery of cell therapies and related products.
“• Develop and implements strategies to aid clinical applications such as in the critical areas of manufacturing, drug and cell product safety and efficacy.
“• Consult Senior Management regarding interface approaches with national and international regulatory organizations”
The contract differs somewhat from the CIRM news release on Lewis. It said that he would “take direction” from the executive director of scientific affairs – not work in collaboration. This is of significance because their duties overlap and could be a source of friction if not carefully managed.

(Photo from San Diego Union-Tribune)

(Editor's note: An earlier version of this item incorrectly said that Lewis' contract was not mentioned by Trounson at the June CIRM board meeting.)


  1. Anonymous1:43 PM

    So if the person in this post were working full time, that'd be $2,500 x 260 [52 weeks x 5 days per week] = $650,000, not including travel expenses! HOW CAN THE STATE OF CALIFORNIA AGREE TO THIS? What is motivating these people to accept these part time positions at these costs? The highest paid public official - the office of the Presidency - only receives a total of $569K per year (WHICH INCLUDES $100K for travel, $50K for expenses and $19K for entertainment).

    For perspective, if the office of the President were required to work 1/2 time like this CIRM post requires, he'd receive $284K, only slightly more than this CIRM post! Looking at it another way, if this CIRM post were full time, it would be that $650K, more than the President of the United States, but, with the President, you would also get a COMMANDER IN CHIEF ultimately responsible for the entire country's defense decisions. As it is, at this entity, you'd get a full time person for $650K, just working on stem cell issues! Does anyone out there know if the President is only required to work part time? If so, I'd love to learn about it!

    Free calendars, taxpayer payments to lay people to attend events advocating stem cell research, fancy luncheons with silvery domed-top lunch served on china, wonderful food, meetings at famed theatre/auditoriums replete with popcorn, celebrities on the boardor working groups of CIRM, turning others away from a meeting held by a PUBLIC ENTITY; WHAT IN THE WORLD HAS THIS ENTITY COME TO WHERE THE STATE OF CALIFORNIA IS IN A BUDGET CRISIS, YET, BY DEFINITION, A *****PUBLIC SERVANTS****** ARE BEING PAID $250,000 FOR 1/2 YEAR FOR THESE CIRM POSTS!

    For heaven's sake, haven't we learned by the salaries on wall street, the mortgage industry, etc.? And this entity is a public one, funded with taxpayer dollars, not a free market enterprise! Shouldn't compensation be tied to, and dependent upon, achieving actual performance, delivering actual cures to the citizenry of the State of California? Isn't that what all of us citizens are paying for when we debt service the $3 billion in bonds used to fund this entity which, when repaid, will cost approximately $6 billion? Is there no way to compensate people richly ONLY when ACTUAL results are achieved? Maybe bonuses here have gone the way of the dodo bird, but **BIG** rich salaries -- for a part time work requirement -- obviously have not!

    A six-month contract that calls for the person in this position to simply "push hard" to develop clinical applications that CIRM hopes will demonstrate the success of its $3 billion effort seems to fall short of REQUIRING RESULTS IN ORDER FOR THESE POSTS TO RECEIVE SUCH COMPENSATION AS IS REFERENCED IN YOUR ARTICLE!

  2. Anonymous6:01 AM

    The Alan Lewis compensation is moot at this point since it was just announced that:

    "SAN DIEGO, July 26 /PRNewswire/ -- Ambit Biosciences Corporation (Ambit), a recognized global leader in kinase drug discovery and development, announced today that its Board of Directors has completed a thorough executive search and appointed Alan J. Lewis, Ph.D. as Chairman and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Company. Dr. Lewis has been serving as Executive Chairman of Ambit since March 2010, and will now be responsible for the daily operations of the Company as CEO....."

    However, let me voice the unpopular minority view: If you want a top level consultant to decide how to spend billions of dollars wisely, you need to pay the going rate, and the $2500 per day rate ($313 per hour) for a consultant of Dr. Lewis' credentials is below the low end of the range that he would be paid by the private sector. CIRM appears to have negotiated a preferred rate, so let's recognized that. I understand it is a great amount of money compared to the average person. Top executives in biotechnology make must more than an average salary. Also it is well known that paying a consultant is much more expensive per hour than a permanent employee. Even at $250,000 per 6 month, I am sure that Dr. Lewis will be earning far more now.

    Would you rather pay someone $200K per year and get a mediocre person to decide how to spend (actually to invest) the billions or to pay twice that and get the best person. How many mistakes have to be made by the former to justify the latter. I contend that it is not even one when the grants typically run in the millions or tens of millions.

    Just my two cents, ....


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