Thursday, July 10, 2014

Biopolitical Times: Trounson-Weissman-StemCells, Inc., Affair is 'Shameful'

The headline on the Biopolitical Times story said it all: “Shameful Conflicts of Interest Involving California’s Stem Cell Agency.”

The piece by Pete Shanks of the Center for Genetics and Society in Berkeley, Ca., dealt with the former president of the agency, Alan Trounson, and StemCells, Inc., which holds a $19.4 million award from the agency, along with Irv Weissman, the Stanford researcher who founded the firm and who now sits on its board.

Trounson was named to the StemCells, Inc., board on Monday, seven days after he left the agency. Yesterday the agency, formally known as the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine(CIRM), launched a “full review” of all activities involving StemCells, Inc. The agency also banned its staff and board fromcommunicating with Trounson about matters involving the publicly traded firm.  

Shanks wrote,
“Let's be blunt: This looks like a pay-off. Technically, what Trounson and Weissman and StemCells, Inc., just did may not be illegal. But it's shameless.
Shanks pointed out that the problems with conflicts of interest at the agency are nothing new. As far back as 2004, they were noted prior to passage of the measure that created the state research effort. Their importance was noted by major supporters of the measure, including Weissman.

Weissman was quoted in Nature in September 2004 as saying,
“We want to avoid even the appearance of a conflict.”
Shanks concluded,

“CIRM should take a long look at its practices and procedures, which have never served the agency well — and especially should consider its obligations to the public, who fund it. There can be practical difficulties in balancing expertise and objectivity; the best scientists in any field do tend to know each other well. All the more reason to be especially careful. This kind of obviously problematic conflict of interest can and should easily be avoided.

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