Sunday, May 05, 2013

The Klein Donation: Text of Robert Klein's Response re StemCells, Inc.

Here is the text of the initial response from Robert Klein, chairman of the California stem cell agency until July 2011, to questions from the California Stem Cell Report (CSCR) concerning his $21,630 donation to the agency. The questions posed by CSCR on precede the response by Klein. Here is a link to a story on the matter.

CSCR to Klein:
“Why did you give the agency the money?
“Did you place on conditions on its use?
“Did anyone connected with the agency indicate in advance  that your donation would be desired? If so who? Who did you deal with primarily on the donation -- Trounson, Thomas or...?
“The donation came one month after grant reviewers rejected StemCells Inc.'s Alzheimer's application. Do you think it was appropriate to make the donation and then ask the board twice to override its reviewers?
“Do you think the donation and subsequent action on StemCells, Inc.'s Alzheimer's application will negatively color the perception of future efforts by CIRM at private fundraising?”
Klein's response:

“In April or May of 2012 I committed approximately $20,000 as a contribution to CIRM to cover the travel expenses of staff to the International Stem Cell Society meeting in Japan. My commitment to ensure scientific staff can participate in international meetings dates back many years. In 2011 I wrote the following explanation of its importance in obtaining the knowledge to accelerate the drive of scientific research to reach patients with chronic disease.

            Leverage Leading Edge Science

            “Travel by CIRM staff members and leadership permits CIRM to stay in contact with, and understand, the leading edge advances of scientists all over the world, and to leverage those advances by creating a platform for collaborations between these leading scientists and their peers in California. Currently, CIRM has collaboration agreements with 15 foreign governments pursuant to which these governments have pledged $134,380,000 in commitments to fund the work of their scientists on join teams with California scientists to develop therapy candidates and to advance therapies to human trials. Although a significant amount of this commitment is currently pending scientific peer review and not all of it will be awarded as part of a successful application, every dollar in funding by a foreign government magnifies the scientific impact of California’s taxpayer dollars. If just $40 million is awarded each year over ten years, it would provide California with $400 million of scientific leverage.

  •     It is critical to understand that there are unpublished scientific discoveries in progress in each of these nations. Often, publication may trail a scientific discovery by nine months or more.
  •     The travel requested by CIRM provides a critical link for the timely transmission of valuable new information. California cannot afford to lose the opportunity to harness discoveries in other countries to advance the development of therapies in California and to capture the opportunity to advance therapies for patients instead of using California taxpayer dollars to duplicate discoveries already mastered in other countries.
  •      While CIRM’s scientific staff works with scientists in other countries to capture the scientific knowledge for the benefit of California’s therapy development teams, the Chairman’s Office works with international finance ministers, the premiers of international states, and foreign funding agencies to ensure funding allocations for these bilateral funding agreements. These discussions often involve face-to-face negotiations in foreign nations and states, in addition to meetings at international conferences, all of which are supported by extensive staff work in California.
  •      CIRM issued its first co-funding awards early in 2009. Over the last two years, these agreements have yielded $57 million in international funds actually approved through peer review. This $57 million represents participation by only the first five countries and one international state with which CIRM established a collaboration. Now, CIRM has agreements with nine countries and two international states and an additional three countries will be added in the near future.
  •     Even if CIRM were only to obtain $30 million per year in international matching funds, the ratio of return on CIRM’s $206,920 travel expenditures would be approximately 145 to 1.
  •    Proposition 71 specifically anticipated and directs CIRM to develop leverage and global leadership to capture the benefit for patients.
Keeping on the Cutting Edge of Stem Cell Science

"CIRM’s over 20 MDs and/or PhDs science officers on the grant review staff at CIRM reach out nationally and internationally through conferences that may include 10-20 meetings per day and workshops of 8-12 hours per day to grasp the leading edge of this pre-publication, dynamic revolution in medical knowledge. In order to ensure that the every research dollar is optimally deployed to advance therapies to save lives or rescue the quality of life for patients, it is critical that CIRM staff remain on the cutting edge of new discoveries. International conferences and workshops provide a critical opportunity for massive and decisive transfers of information, which ensures that California is funding the right research.

“I principally corresponded with Dr. Trounson on the issue covering the travel expenses for the staff for the reasons stated above. I had no input into the selection of scientific staff. In May and even in June when the conference occurred I had no idea that there would be any disagreement on the Alzheimer’s application of Stem Cells Inc. in August. At the Board meeting I asked that there be consideration for the fact that three other peer reviews had found the work leading up to this application to be outstanding and they had ranked it highly. In addition, the current peer review had not been briefed on the fact that they downgraded the applicant for following the directions on material points by the prior peer reviews. Finally, the standard deviation on the 2012 peer review was extremely high and the re-review by the three member committee resulted in a split decision. It is particularly appropriate with a huge standard deviation, demonstrating both strong support and opposition within the peer review group, for the Board to make its own independent decision.  Please recall that the staff recommended against approval so that they clearly were not influenced by my commitment to a contribution to the Agency, months before, for the benefit of scientific staff to be able to attend an international science conference. Additionally, Dr. Trounson, I believe, recused himself from the review of the Stem Cells Inc. application, for unrelated reasons, so he was not involved. I personally had served on the three prior peer reviews, including one in the prior year that recommended this application for a Disease Team approval. I know how strongly the scientists on those three prior peer reviews supported funding this scientific research, with the 2011 review specifically recommending this Disease Team for approval. I believe it was extremely important for me to provide a voice to those three scientific panels who disagreed with a portion of the scientists on the 2012 scientific panel. Supporting the scientific movement to human trials for Alzheimer’s has to be eventually approved by the FDA; but, this loan will move the science and the potential for clinical trials forward significantly and hopefully obtain FDA approval. I believe all three of the Board’s overrides of the peer review recommendations on the Disease Team round in 2008 are leading directly to human trials in the United States and/or United Kingdom. 92% of the all of the funds awarded by CIRM have followed the recommendations of the peer review committee; but, in those significant cases where the Board has made an independent decision, there has been an extremely high success rate particularly when there has been a high level of disagreement within the Peer Review Board that was overridden and prior peer reviews recommended and/or approved the scientific approach and concepts of the applicant.”

(Editor's note:  The applications in this round were reviewed once in April 2012 by CIRM's full grant review group. StemCells, Inc.'s application was subject to a reevaluation after Klein's appeal in July 2012 and rejected again, but it was not a full review.  Klein may be referring also an earlier round that provided grants for planning to apply for the full $20 million.) 


  1. Anonymous8:43 PM

    Thank you for bringing this to our attention. There are too many connections for the StemCells, Inc Alzheimer's disease team funding was not a coincidence.

    To avoid the appearance of conflict, the NIH won't allow a grantee to even buy a cup of coffee for an NIH employee. Trounson at Wessman's ranch? What was he thinking?? What was Weissman's motivation? I'll believe that this was not lobbying when Irv invites ALL California stem cell scientists to spend 4 days at his ranch! And you too, Dave! And, Bob should also pay for you to visit Japan!

  2. Anonymous8:45 PM

    Bob Klein is referring to the Translational grant award for Alzheimer's stem cell therapy. That grant was to a collaboration of academics who had already published their early success with this approach, and did not involve StemCells, Inc.


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