Thursday, July 08, 2010

Campaign Contributors, iPierian and the California Stem Cell Agency

Major contributors to the Prop. 71 campaign are pumping more of their own cash into a South San Francisco stem cell firm that has received $1.5 million from the state agency that they helped to create in 2004.

The firm, iPierian, Inc., also has plans to seek additional millions in the near future from the California stem cell agency. The new venture capital funding round announced by the firm today may well be tied to that application.

Ipierian's news release additionally disclosed major new support from another enterprise tied to a Prop. 71 campaign contributor. Ipierian said Google Ventures had joined the firm's backers in the $22 million funding round. Google Ventures will get a seat on the iPierian board as a result of its investment in the company. Sergey Brin, co-founder of Google, made a $100,000 contribution to the Prop. 71 campaign in 2004. (For more on that subject, see the last few paragraphs of this item. )

Other investors in iPierian, including John Doerr of Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers of Menlo Park, contributed nearly $6 million to the campaign for Prop. 71. The figure was 25 percent of the total contributed to the campaign, which was run by CIRM Chairman Robert Klein. The Kleiner firm also took part in today's new funding round for iPierian.

During the campaign, opponents said that Prop. 71 was little more than seed money for the venture capital community.

CIRM says no connection exists between the contributions and the CIRM award to iPierian. The company and Kleiner have not responded to requests for comments. We are asking again and will carry their remarks verbatim if we receive them.

Ipierian has said it plans to seek CIRM funding in the upcoming $50 million clinical trial round. It is expected to be one of only three companies applying. Today's announcement said the new financing “will allow the company to drive its programs into the clinic, while securing pharmaceutical partnerships.” In March, when CIRM directors approved the concept for the clinical trial round, they were told it would require substantial matching funds from applicants.

The RFA for the round was originally scheduled for April or May but has not yet been posted. On June 7,  we asked Don Gibbons, CIRM's communications chief, why the RFA was delayed. Gibbons has not replied, but one reason for the delay in posting could be that potential applicants needed more time to arrange for matching funds. The RFA is now targeted for posting this month.

Today's announcement from iPierian also said that John Walker was leaving as CEO, a job he has held since February 2009. He is being replaced by Michael Venuti, who was president and chief scientific officer. Venuti praised Walker for his leadership, including securing grants from CIRM.

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