Monday, August 01, 2011

California Stem Cell Agency Chair Sells Interest in Advanced Cell Technology

Jonathan Thomas, at right, at his first CIRM board meeting in June.  Outgoing
Chairman Robert Klein is at left and co-Vice Chairman Art Torres in center. 
The new chairman of the $3 billion California stem cell agency, Jonathan Thomas, has sold "at a significant loss" the 17,046 shares he held in a California-based stem cell firm.

In response to a query from the California Stem Cell Report, Thomas, a bond financier in Los Angeles, said that his stock in Advanced Cell Technology of Santa Monica, Ca., was sold recently at 19 cents a share or a total of $3,239. Over the last 12 months the stock price of ACT has ranged from four cents to 27 cents. Thomas did not disclose size of the loss he took on his investment.

Thomas additionally said the firm in which he is a partner, Saybrook Capital, also of Santa Monica, sold all 11,364 shares it held in ACT at $0.1856 a share. Thomas said in an email,
"To put the sales in context from a volume standpoint, ACT has had a three month average daily trading volume of over 4.9 million shares. With these sales, I have no remaining investment of any kind in ACT stock. All sales were at a significant loss."
Thomas will remain a partner at Saybrook while serving as the part-time (80 percent) chairman of CIRM.

Prior to his election as chairman of CIRM, Thomas publicly disclosed his interest in ACT, which is only one of two companies in the United States with a clinical trial underway involving a human embryonic stem cell therapy(see here, here and here). He said in a statement to CIRM directors last spring,
"As I proceeded through my career in law and finance, I took particular interest in stem cell research and looked for a company to work with in that arena. In 2000, I began tracking Advanced Cell Technology (or "ACT"), a then fledgling-company pursuing therapeutic products from embryonic stem cell research. After extensive review of their intellectual property portfolio and lengthy due diligence, I led an early round financing to cover the company’s operating expenses. I have tracked ACT over the years and am familiar through it with the ups and downs typical of the biotechnology industry. Now, 11 years later, ACT has two of the three products derived from embryonic stem cell research currently in clinical trials. It will be interesting to see how things play out."
ACT moved its official headquarters to California after passage in 2004 of Prop. 71, the ballot measure that created the state's stem cell research effort. ACT has applied for grants from the stem cell agency, but never received one. At one point, an ACT researcher publicly complained about conflicts of interest in the grant review process. CIRM, however, gave short shrift to the complaint.

ACT reportedly applied for a loan from CIRM in its recent $50 million clinical trial round. But the company was not identified as a winner when directors approved a loan to Geron in May. However, ACT is reportedly in line for an award later this year from CIRM, according to industry scuttlebutt.

Under state law, Thomas is required to file a statement of his economic interests within 30 days of assuming his position. Thomas was sworn in on June 22. He told the California Stem Cell Report on Saturday that he is "just finishing up getting all the data together. It will be good to go in the next few days."

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