Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Salk Loses Seat at California's $3 Billion Stem Cell Table

Bert Lubin, new CIRM board
The Salk Institute has lost its seat on the 29-member governing board of the $3 billion California stem cell agency.

The La Jolla, Ca., research enterprise had held a position on the board since its inception in 2004. Most recently, William Brody, president of Salk, which has received $37 million in CIRM grants, filled the slot. Brody was appointed in August of 2009.

Brody was was replaced by Kristiina Vuori, president of the Sanford-Burnham Research Institute, also of La Jolla. At the same time, her boss, John Reed, CEO of Sanford was replaced on the CIRM board when state Controller John Chiang appointed  Bert Lubin, president and CEO of Children’s Hospital and Research Center Oakland. Lubin made news three years ago when he became the first grant applicant to publicly appeal a negative decision on his application by CIRM's scientific reviewers. Lubin lost his bid during a heated debate among directors. At the time, directors expressed considerable discomfort with having to deal with a public appeal. Since then, the problem of appeals has continued to dog the board, although its Scientific Subcommittee is attempting to deal with the issue.
Kristiina Vuori, new
 CIRM  board member

Childrens Hospital Oakland currently holds a single $55,000 grant from CIRM.

Chiang's office had no immediate comment on the reasons behind Lubin's nomination. We are also querying Lubin and Brody for comment.(The controller's office later said Lubin would serve as an advocate for children's health.)

Vuori was appointed by former Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado before he left office earlier this month. Sanford-Burnham has received $31 million from CIRM.

It is common for CIRM grants to go to institutions linked to its board. Many members of the board are employed by institutions that have received tens of millions of dollars from CIRM. The following institutions have seats on the board: Stanford, $176 million in grants; UCLA, $135 million; UCSF, $111 million; UCSD, $77 million; USC, $72 million; UC Irvine, $72 million; UC Davis, $61 million; City of Hope, $42 million; UC Berkeley, $37 million; Scripps, $37 million; UC Santa Cruz, $19 million; UC Santa Barbara, $13 million; UC Merced, $8 million; UC Riverside, $6 million, Cedars-Sinai, $9 million. One CIRM director, Sherry Lansing, a UC regent, accounts for many of the connections to the smaller UC campuses.

Directors with financial ties to applicants are barred from voting on their applications. Directors, however, approve concepts for grant programs and the rules for administering them. Reed and others ran afoul of conflict rules in 2007. The issue with Sanford's Reed was disclosed by the California Stem Cell Report. Reed was later warned by the state Fair Political Practices Commission. Reed acted after he was advised to do so by CIRM Chairman Robert Klein, an attorney who later said his advice was an "inadvertent error."

The structure of the board was dictated by Prop. 71, whose authors, including Klein, were interested in giving a seat at the financial table to the institutions who ultimately benefited from the largess.

The new appointees have six-year terms. They receive $114 a day while working on CIRM matters.

The appointments were disclosed this afternoon in a news release from CIRM. The statement said there were no changes in the other members of the board. Nine were reappointed. Others have eight-year terms.

(An earlier version of this item incorrectly said that Brody was replaced by Lubin.)


  1. Anonymous5:55 PM

    OMG! Do my eyes decieve me or did I read that John Chiang, Controller for the State of California, is now on the board of CIRM?

    If so, this is excellent news for the people of the State of California. It should have been done long ago.

    Maybe the level of transparency at CIRM, so badly desired and deserved by the people of this state, will finally increase.

    Hooray!!! Excellent news!

  2. Thanks to "anonymous" for pointing out our ambiguous construction on Chiang's appointment of Bert Lubin. We have modified the language to make it perfectly clear. We do suspect that "anonymous" is twitting us a bit, but we appreciate his/her eagle eye.


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