Sunday, May 06, 2012

Advisor to CIRM Nominated to Board of CIRM Grant Recipient Expecting $5 Million from Agency

A "special advisor" to the $3 billion California stem cell agency has been nominated to the board of directors of Sangamo BioSciences, Inc., a firm that is sharing in a $14.5 million grant from the state research enterprise.

She is Saira Ramasastry, managing partner of Life Sciences Advisory, LLC, of Emerald Lake Hills, Ca., and who also has worked as a consultant to Sangamo. Ramasastry's ties to CIRM go back to at least May of 2010, when she served as a consultant for the panel that CIRM hired to review its operations. The panel strongly recommended that CIRM engage industry more warmly. Since then Ramasastry's contracts with CIRM have totalled $65,000. Her current $25,000 contract describes her work for CIRM as "industry analysis and consultation."

Ramasastry's website says she serves as "a special advisor to CIRM in industry engagement initiatives and strategic projects." Her firm also offers expertise to life sciences firms in "strategic alternatives advisory, strategic options analysis, tailored business development solutions and innovative financing strategies."

In a news release April 30 announcing her nomination, Sangamo said Ramasastry has worked as a consultant to the Richmond, Ca., company. William Ringo, chairman of Sangamo's board of directors, said,
 "Saira's extensive experience in global healthcare investment banking and strategic advisory consulting will bring valuable financial, commercial assessment and business development skills to our board."
Compensation for Sangamo directors in 2011 ranged from $75,000 to $35,000 for those who served a full year plus stock options. 

Sangamo is sharing in a $14.5 million, four-year grant from CIRM with the City of Hope in Los Angeles dealing with an AIDS- related lymphoma therapy. The grant was approved in 2009. Sangamo expects to receive $5.2 million from the grant if it runs for the full four years. As of the end of 2011, the firm has received $2.4 million, according to its financial documents. In March, Ellen Feigal, CIRM senior vice president for research and development, said the effort is due for an evaluation late this year.  Earlier this year, CIRM terminated one $19 million grant in the same round after it failed to meet milestones.

Sangamo's board is scheduled to vote on Ramasastry's nomination on June 21. 

The California Stem Cell Report has asked Ramasastry if she has any comment for publication. We are also querying CIRM and Sangamo. Their comments will be carried verbatim when we receive them.

Our take? Ramasastry's consulting work with both CIRM and Sangamo demonstrates again the tiny size of the world of stem cell science. It also raises questions about conflicts of interest involving CIRM and industry. Can a consultant in such a position serve two masters and serve them both equally well? CIRM's interests are not necessarily the same as Sangamo's, which is a publicly traded firm working diligently to generate profit and financial returns for its shareholders. To do that, it needs capital from its financial "backers," including CIRM. The stem cell agency, however, is in the business of getting the results that it wants from Sangamo. If not, the grant can be cancelled. Working for both the stem cell agency, whose paramount obligation is to the people of California, and a recipient of the agency's millions is incompatible.

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