Sunday, November 28, 2010

Biotech Exec Says CIRM Review Misguided, Biased and Disservice to Public

Last week the blue-ribbon panel reviewing the programs at the $3 billion California stem cell agency released its report. We carried an item on the group's recommendations and asked for comment from our readers, promising to carry them verbatim. The following was submitted by an exective/scientist from a California biotech firm who must remain anonymous.
“The review by the external panel is nothing short of froth and it is disingenuous in its honesty towards Californian citizens, who are funding CIRM. The review board was composed of academics and lacked industry experts. The review board continued to suggest focusing on basic research, which is what led to CIRM's current disastrous state in the first place. If the architects of CIRM initially sold the public on the idea that stem cells will deliver products that reduce the healthcare burden within 10 years, and the average drug development process from entry into IND-enabling phase to completion of phase III takes 10 years, then the focus on CIRM from the start should have been on funding game changing translational projects as well as programs that are entering the IND phase. The board is completely misguided in its recommendations and this is not at all a surprise considering its bias. Moreover the board is asking CIRM to fund outside of California research, and this is ridiculous. CIRM is not NIH, and even NIH is perceived to mismanage public dollars and has been scrutinized for its extremely poor translational output to date. Why would we the public of California wish to adopt a broken model and subsidize non-California research with California dollars?

“The external review board should be filled with industry leaders, all of which should come from within the state. California is the birthplace of the greatest biotechs in the world (Amgen, Genentech, Gilead, amongst many others), and yet CIRM refuses to leverage this asset and instead recruits unqualified (in the business realm) academics who have generated very few if any commercial products in their lifetime of work. This is disgraceful and has been a complete waste of $3B of taxpayer dollars. If CIRM was to hold true to its promise to deliver products in 10 years, then it needed to start translational activities immediately and not building infrastructure for already rich universities like Stanford, who enjoy $10B plus endowments. Let Stanford spend from their endowment to build its infrastructure goals, not California's public dollars. This is a complete fraud architected by CIRM insiders, and it will all implode under this failed strategy of making CIRM serve as a funding buffer for drying NIH dollars.

“CIRM’s job is not become a global stem cell leader. Its job is to fund commercialization of stem cell-based technologies that can reduce suffering of Californians. Its job is not to fund basic science. Its job is to focus on translation. Its job is not look to fund research outside of California, as this is 100% California dollars.

“Moreover, the board told an executive attending the meeting during an exchange, that CIRM will not be able to deliver on its promises and it is in trouble. The board shared that it should forget about ever reaching that goal, as there will not be any products coming in 5 years as originally promised to California citizens. Yet, this alarming reality is not reflected in the comments, showing how dishonest and filtered this review report truly is. It is a disservice to the public to lie to them. I am appalled and disgusted by the whole thing to be quite frank, and feel the entire CIRM body needs to be completely overhauled.

“The public would better be served if we treated CIRM as an early stage regenerative medicine focused venture capital firm, since the limited partners (LPs) are the public citizens, and they expect the same return on investment in the same horizon (10 yrs) as what is expected by LPs that invest in venture capital, and have to endure the same risks. Life science VCs do not invest in infrastructure, they do not invest in university programs at the clip of 97%, if at all. They invest in people within corporate structures that have the intellect and talent and experience to bring products to market that solve unmet medical needs, and deliver value over current products. This is not rocket science.”


  1. From an AP report on work by John Gearhart of the University of Pennsylvania:

    Using embryonic stem cells is proving to be inefficient and more difficult than expected, scientists say.

  2. Anonymous12:32 PM

    By posting such an angry, unsubstantiated, and anonymous attack on CIRM, you lose credibility in my book.

  3. From The Great Beyond Blog:

    “You’ve got to remember, their whole mandate is commercialization,” says Bob Caldwell, CEO of Massachusetts-based stem cell company Advanced Cell Technology (ACT). What the agency should have done, he says, is identified 3-5 potential therapies that were “low-hanging fruit” in terms of clinical development. “Let’s get those through and into the clinic so that we can demonstrate to the world that the [human embryonic stem cell] platform has value,” he says.

    Also, Caldwell notes, the agency should already have called for project proposals that tackle some technical areas that need work, such as techniques for the cryoprotection of cells, as well as methods to coax cells into dividing more rapidly. “These are commercial issues that can help these products move into the market,” he says.

    From the IPBiz blog in 2005:

    When taxpayers in California, Kansas, New Jersey, etc. find out they are getting no benefits out of their tax dollars, there might be a bit of disenchantment. Taxpayers do not want to be, unknowingly, venture capitalists.


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